Authors: DELORES FOSSEN
Tags: #ROMANCE - - SUSPENSE
A woman he’s never met is carrying his child in
bestselling author Delores Fossen’s The Marshals of Maverick County miniseries
When U.S. marshal Wyatt McCabe tracks his target to a Texas ranch, he isn’t the only one with Lyla Pearson in his sights. But Wyatt has a powerful reason for keeping the beautiful CSI director out of the line of fire—he may be the father of the child she’s carrying.
The mother-to-be doesn’t know who to fear more—the gunmen surrounding her house, or the stranger claiming paternity of her in vitro baby. Holed up together at his family homestead, Lyla struggles to fight her attraction to the sinfully handsome lawman. But with a killer stalking them, it may tear their new family apart.…
“You make it a habit to propose to strangers?”
“Not generally. But I’ll make an exception in your case.”
Lyla shook her head. “Men like you don’t even ask out women like me.”
Wyatt frowned. “Men like me and women like you?”
“Hot guys who know they’re hot,” she clarified. “Don’t you dare say you don’t know you’re hot. And I’m the opposite of hot.”
“Oh, you’re hot, all right.”
And he so wished he hadn’t blurted that out. He knew how to keep things close to the vest, and he darn sure shouldn’t be saying something like that to Lyla. Especially since it was the truth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Imagine a family tree that includes Texas cowboys, Choctaw
and Cherokee Indians, a Louisiana pirate and a Scottish rebel who battled side
by side with William Wallace. With ancestors like that, it’s easy to understand
bestselling author and former air
force captain Delores Fossen feels as if she were genetically predisposed to
writing romances. Along the way to fulfilling her DNA destiny, Delores married
an air force top gun who just happens to be of Viking descent. With all those
romantic bases covered, she doesn’t have to look too far for inspiration.
Books by Delores Fossen
1026—THE CHRISTMAS CLUE*
1050—THE HORSEMAN’S SON*
1110—BRANDED BY THE
1242—SAVIOR IN THE SADDLEΔΔ
1252—THE TEXAS LAWMAN’S LAST STANDΔΔ
RESCUE AT MUSTANG RIDGE
1395—STANDOFF AT MUSTANG RIDGE
1425—ONE NIGHT STANDOFF§§
Paternity: Boots and Booties
^Texas Maternity: Hostages
Maternity: Labor and Delivery
ΏΏThe Lawmen of Silver Creek Ranch
Marshals of Maverick County
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Marshal Wyatt McCabe—
Raised at the notorious Rocky Creek orphanage, he’s a widower still nursing old wounds when he uncovers a plot to use his late wife’s embryo to force him to tamper with a murder investigation.
The assistant director of the CSI unit that’s processing the evidence from an old murder at Rocky Creek. But Lyla has no idea that her job and desire for a baby has put her on a collision course with Wyatt and with danger.
Sixteen years ago, this now retired marshal rescued Wyatt and five other boys from the Rocky Creek orphanage, but he might have cut corners to do that.
Kirby’s longtime friend. She, too, worked at Rocky Creek and might know more about the present danger than she’s willing to admit.
A wealthy rancher with shady ties to Rocky Creek.
Sheriff Zeke Mercer—
He was friends with the notorious Rocky Creek headmaster, whose murder is now being investigated.
Zeke’s business partner, but he has secrets that could give clues about the killer.
It was his father who was killed sixteen years ago, and while Billy claims he’s innocent, he had a huge motive for wanting his father dead.
Marshal Wyatt McCabe adjusted his binoculars and studied the woman. Lyla Pearson. She was leading a roan mare into the barn just behind her small ranch house, and from what he could tell, she appeared to be talking to the horse. Maybe even singing to it.
She sure didn’t look like someone on the verge of committing a felony.
Not yet anyway.
One thing was for certain—he’d never met her. If he had, Wyatt was pretty sure he would have remembered her even though there was nothing much about her that stood out.
Five foot seven or eight. Average build. Brown hair that she’d gathered into a ponytail.
She was wearing no-frills jeans and a weathered buckskin coat—practically a uniform for someone working with horses. Something he knew a little about, since he worked his own family’s ranch.
Wyatt checked his watch. A little past seven in the morning, which meant Ms. Pearson would soon change her cowgirl
for her job as assistant director of the San Antonio Crime Scene Unit. He had every intention of following her there, too. In fact, he didn’t intend to let her out of his sight until he figured out what the heck was going on.
And those answers extended to the baby she was carrying.
There was no baby bump that he could see. Probably too early in the pregnancy for it, but Wyatt wasn’t a baby expert. However, from everything he’d read about her, Lyla had wanted a baby for years even though she was single and not in a relationship.
What Wyatt needed to know was why she’d wanted
She disappeared into the barn, probably to stable the mare, and when she came out, she stopped and looked around as if she sensed someone was watching her. Wyatt ducked lower behind the pile of boulders, though he figured he was hidden well enough. He’d had a lot of experience doing surveillance duty in rural settings during his six and a half years as a marshal.
The sharp January wind slapped at her, and it was cold enough that when her breath mixed with the chilly air, it created a split-second foggy haze around her face.
Still, she didn’t move.
She continued to glance around.
Even though she wasn’t a cop, she had cop’s eyes. Maybe a cop’s instincts, too, which Wyatt hoped didn’t kick in. He needed to figure out what she was up to before she even realized he was on her trail.
Finally, she moved, walking toward her house, and Wyatt was so caught up in watching her that he nearly missed the movement on the back side of the barn. It was just a blur of motion. Maybe a horse. But with everything else going on, that seemed too much to hope.
Wyatt volleyed glances between her and the barn, and he saw it again. This time, he got more than a blurry glimpse. No horse. It was a man, and he was lurking behind the barn. Wyatt watched, wondering if Lyla knew about her visitor. Maybe he was even her partner in crime.
But the man didn’t call out to her.
And she didn’t seem to notice him.
This was not a complication he needed right now.
If the guy wasn’t her partner, then Wyatt needed to know why he was there. Because he figured someone skulking around a barn didn’t have the best of intentions. Unless he was a lawman, that is.
Wyatt took a harder look. The guy was dressed in camouflage clothing. There was no sign of a lawman’s badge, so Wyatt drew his Colt from his shoulder holster and eased onto the top of the boulders. Wyatt started hurrying toward Lyla. Anything he did right now was risky, but the risk went up a significant notch when he saw the man dart from the barn to the back of her house.
The guy was armed.
Lyla didn’t appear to be.
And worse, she was smack-dab out in the open. If this wasn’t her partner, then why was he there, and did that gun mean he was going to try to kill her? Maybe this was someone opposed to what Lyla had already set into motion, and if the man killed her, Wyatt would never know the full truth.
Plus, there were other reasons to keep her alive, and the biggest reason of all was that baby she was carrying.
“Get down!” Wyatt shouted to her.
She whirled around as Wyatt had expected her to do. And froze again. The gunman darn sure didn’t freeze. He darted out from the barn and took aim.
Wyatt dropped to the icy ground. “I’m Marshal Wyatt McCabe,” he shouted.
The guy ducked back behind the barn, but Wyatt didn’t see or hear anything to indicate he was on the run. Too bad, because if there was a gunfight, then Lyla could be caught in the cross fire. Definitely not something he wanted.
Even worse, Wyatt couldn’t call for backup. He’d checked his phone shortly after he’d parked his truck on the hidden curve of the road—not far away at all—and the whole area was a dead zone. No reception whatsoever.
“Get down!” Wyatt called out to her again.
Thankfully, this time she got moving and did as he’d ordered. Lyla landed on the dead winter grass, yards from her front porch and the safety of her house. There was nothing she could use to hide behind or for protection, and that meant Wyatt had to get to her, fast.
He levered himself up but kept as low as he could. He also kept his Colt aimed and ready. And he started running. He braced himself to dive back to the ground if necessary, but when the gunman peered out from the barn, he didn’t fire.
“Drop the gun!” Wyatt ordered.
He was close enough to Lyla now that he heard her make a sound of surprise mixed with a whole lot of fear. Her reaction made Wyatt think she hadn’t known that an armed man was less than thirty feet away from her.
An armed man who clearly wasn’t listening to a thing Wyatt was telling him to do.
The guy didn’t drop his gun. He stayed put, just tossing out the occasional glances. Once Wyatt had Lyla safely inside, he was going to do something about this nonlistening moron. That didn’t mean killing him. No. That was the last thing Wyatt wanted, because he wanted answers from him, too.
“Don’t move,” Wyatt reminded Lyla when she lifted her head. She dropped back down but looked at him as if trying to figure out who he was.
to do that.
Since her pretense and the reaction to the gunman could all be a ruse, Wyatt kept his attention on both her and the gunman. He made his way across the narrow dirt road that stopped directly in front of her house. Each step was a victory because there were no shots being fired at them. He really wanted to keep it that way.
Wyatt hurried the last few yards to her, and he moved directly in front of her, making sure he was between her and the gunman.
“What’s going on?” she asked, her voice shaking as hard as the rest of her.
“I was hoping you could tell me.” He took aim at the barn and stood. “Is your front door locked?”
Good. Though he’d figured she hadn’t bothered to lock it. Not usually much crime out in the rural part of the county. Of course,
wasn’t the norm right now.
“Stay behind me,” Wyatt instructed. “We’re going inside.”
Where he hoped she wouldn’t try to kill him. But then, he figured her plan didn’t include murdering him.
She or someone else had put too much in motion to outright kill him.
Well, unless the plan had changed and someone was trying to cut their losses and make sure there were no loose ends with equally loose lips. If that was the case, then both Lyla and he could be targeted to die.
She didn’t argue about going inside with him, and Lyla slid her hands over her stomach and practically pressed herself against his back as they inched across the yard. Wyatt could feel the tight muscles in her arms. Could feel her warm breath hit against his neck.
And he could feel her fear.
He shifted his position a little as they went up the steps. He had to keep Lyla shielded, but he also had to make sure the gunman didn’t try to go in through the back of her house.
That led him to his next problem.
If someone was trying to nix a plan that was already in motion—like this one—there might be another attacker waiting inside. Or maybe this was all part of Lyla’s plan—get him inside so she could move on to the next step.
Whatever the heck that was.
don’t be stupid
warning echoing through his head, Wyatt opened the door and stepped inside, keeping her next to him. His attention and gun slashed from one side of the living room to the other.
Well, nothing that he could immediately see anyway. It wasn’t a large room, but there was a dark red sofa and two chairs. Not easy hiding places, but he checked anyway. Then he checked for what could pose the most immediate danger.
Lyla Pearson herself.
“Are you armed?” he asked, but didn’t wait for her to answer. Wyatt shoved his hand inside her coat and gave her a quick pat down.
She gasped and tried to push him away, but Wyatt held his ground. “I don’t carry a gun,” she insisted.
“Maybe not, but you have one registered to you.”
Her eyes widened. “How’d you know that?”
Wyatt just tapped the marshal’s badge clipped to his belt.
Lyla still looked confused by all of this. Heck, maybe she was. After all, if she’d truly set up the gunman pretense, she would’ve had to have known that Wyatt would be there at that exact moment. He’d kept this visit secret. Not even his five foster brothers knew, and they were all marshals, too. He hadn’t wanted to tell them anything until he’d figured out what was going on.
The figuring out started
“Back door locked?” he asked. He pulled her inside, keeping her against the jamb.
“I’m not sure.”
“Stay put,” Wyatt snarled, and he hurried into the kitchen. If anyone was hiding, they would have to be in the fridge, because the pantry door was wide-open and he could see inside. He turned the dead bolt on the door to lock it.
She didn’t ask why he’d done that, but he could feel her fear go up a notch. Or maybe she was faking that, too. At any rate, she was breathing through her mouth, and the pulse on her throat was skittering a mile a minute.
Wyatt went back to her, waited. Listened. But he didn’t hear anyone inside, or out, for that matter. So, he grabbed the cordless landline phone and handed it to her. “Call 9-1-1 and request backup.”
Her hand brushed against his when she took the phone, and for just a split second, their eyes met. Hers were brown, just as her file had said, but what wasn’t in her file was they were deep and warm.
He didn’t need to be thinking of her eyes. Or anything else, for that matter. She could be one of the most conniving criminals he’d ever met.
Or maybe an innocent pawn.
Until Wyatt knew which, her eyes and the rest of her were off-limits.
While she made the call, Wyatt got her all the way inside and kicked the door shut. He locked it. But he didn’t move. He stayed put, waiting to make sure they were indeed alone. Waiting, too, to see if she’d make some kind of move.
She didn’t. Lyla called 9-1-1 just as he’d asked.
The window on the east side of the room was both a blessing and a curse. It allowed Wyatt a decent view of the back side of the barn. The last place he’d spotted the guy with the gun. But that window was also a danger, since the gunman could see them and shoot right through the glass.
“A deputy’s on the way,” Lyla relayed once she’d finished the call.
Good. But the nearest town, Bulverde, was a good thirty minutes away, and he was on his own until then.
“Who’s out there?” she asked.
“You don’t know?”
Her breath rattled in her throat. “I have no idea.” She shook her head and caught onto the door, maybe because she didn’t look too steady on her feet. “He can’t shoot me. I’m pregnant and he could hurt the baby.”
If this was an act, she was damn convincing.
Wyatt glanced around, looking for the safest way to approach this—for both him and her. “Get down on the floor in front of the sofa.”
It wasn’t a perfect location. Not by a long shot. But it would get her out of direct line of fire of that window, and with her on the floor, she wouldn’t be able to attack him.
She moved to do just that but then stopped and stared at him. “What’s going on?”
He didn’t have to lie about this. “You’re going to tell me that after I take care of the guy by the barn.”
Her stare tightened into a glare, and with that glare aimed at him, she eased down onto the floor.
That freed him up to hurry to the hall entry, where he spotted three doors. Probably two bedrooms and a bath. All the doors were open, but unlike with the pantry, he didn’t have a clear look inside any of them.
“Why are you here?” she asked. “How did you know there’d be a gunman at my house?”
Tricky questions, both of them. If she didn’t truly know the answers, then they were both in some Texas-sized trouble.
“I’m involved in an investigation, and you might have something to do with it,” he settled for saying.
“I don’t understand. What investigation?”
Wyatt knew he couldn’t dodge her questions for long, but he really had to make sure another gunman wasn’t inside the house. “Don’t get up,” he warned her, and he hurried into the hall for a quick check of the bedrooms and bath.
“What investigation?” Lyla repeated.
Even though he’d stepped into her bedroom, Wyatt had no trouble hearing her. “Jonah Webb’s murder.”
She mumbled something he didn’t catch, but Wyatt ignored her, had a look under the bed and in the closet. Everything was neat and in its place. Definitely no smoking-gun evidence that he could use to arrest her on the spot.
When he was satisfied they were alone and there was nothing immediate for him to find, he hurried back to the living room and met Lyla’s glare. It was worse than the other one she’d aimed at him.
“Jonah Webb,” she repeated. “He was the man from the orphanage who was murdered years ago.”
Sixteen and a half, to be exact.
She studied his face. Then his badge. “You’re one of the marshals who were raised at the orphanage.” Again, he couldn’t be sure if her surprised tone was fake or not.