“Kaitlyn’s in Texas.”
Those words did far more to wake up Clay Morgan than the strong black coffee he’d just poured into his mug. He absorbed their impact while returning the pot to the burner, his moves automatic, his back to the woman seated at the table behind him. He could feel her gaze locked on him. He was bound and determined to appear as though she had just remarked on the weather… not the bombshell fact that the one woman he’d ever loved and was likely to ever love… was in the same state for the first time in over a decade. Clay picked up the mug and stepped to the empty chair, seating himself and then reached for a napkin from the stack on the table.
“You can keep your silence. But I can’t. I’m an old woman who can admit I’ve made my share of mistakes in my lifetime. And there is none I regret as much as sending Kaitlyn away and keeping the two of you apart. I should have listened to my granddaughter. I should have trusted in you. Instead, I was a meddlesome, old fool too full of myself and too blind to see beyond my own wants.”
Not much surprised Clay, given his job. But the woman’s words had stopped him in his tracks. The whole subject came out of the blue and it was one he didn’t care to visit. However, it was obvious Georgia Russell was intent on saying what was on her mind. Leaning back, he folded his arms across his chest and waited.
“Don’t give me that granite, Texas Ranger face of yours.” She grumped at him, her hands clasped in front of her on the table. “It might work on those criminal types you deal with, but not me. And before you ask it, no… I have not lost my mind and I’m not having early signs of dementia. I’m having an attack of conscience… albeit a few years late.”
“Almost twelve years, to be exact.”
“So the cat didn’t get your tongue. That’s good. But I have something to say and I need you to listen and not interrupt.”
Clay kept still, watching and waiting. He’d learned early on in their relationship that it would be best to let the woman get whatever it was off her chest with a minimum of interruptions.
“I had my checkup today with that old sawbones that calls himself a doctor.” She paused and cleared her throat. “Looks like I need some rotor-router work done on my old ticker. And yes”—she shot him a look—“I do have a heart in this chest.”
Clay straightened and met her gaze with his own. “I’ve seen glimpses of it now and then. So this is just routine, right?”
“He advised me to take care of any loose ends I might have… just as a precaution, he said. But I can read between the lines better than most. So I need you to help me with one of those ends.”
“You know I’ll do whatever I can. You’ve been here for me these last few years with Joshua and all. So, it’s my turn. What can I do?”
“I need you to find Kaitlyn. Bring her here. She won’t come if I ask her. I’ve done that plenty over the years. That’s why I’ve always gone to New York. But that’s not possible for me now. Since she’s in Texas, I figure it would be easy for you to find her and bring her home. For just a few days, of course.”
“Something tells me she might not agree to come. We all know I’m the reason she hasn’t come back here in all these years. Perhaps someone else…”
“I asked you. It’s time the past was put to rest… or at least made sense of. You aren’t trying to welsh on paying me back, are you?”
She had him. They both knew it. She had always been one shrewd woman… tough in business and tougher on anything or anyone that came around her granddaughter. It was useless to argue when she had that eagle-eyed look trained on him and she spoke in that tone of voice.
“Any idea where she might be in Texas?”
“Her assistant said she and her friend, Angelina Lord, are on their way from San Antonio to Santa Fe, New Mexico today. I figure she’ll be skirting pretty close to her old stomping grounds. I did try to reach her by cell phone but no service. Besides, I want to speak to her in person, not on some phone. That’s why I’m asking you to find her.”
“She knows the area. The old cut-through from Lowell to San Angelo is the best road to make good time on toward the border. Cell towers are few and far between… service is iffy at best.” Clay stood, moving to pour the tepid coffee out and set the mug inside the sink. “If I do find her and if she allows me the time to say anything, I’ll do my best to reason with her. I make no promises how it will turn out.”
Georgia stood and stepped toward him, her hands reaching for his. “Then your best will bring her back where she belongs. I need to have this time with her… just in case.”
Something pulled inside Clay’s chest at her words and the suddenly fragile look that shadowed her features. How old is she? Seventy? Seventy-three? It dawned on him that she had always appeared ageless over the last fifteen years. But she was an old lady, missing her only blood relative—her precious granddaughter that Georgia had moved heaven and earth to give every opportunity to so Kaitlyn could follow her dreams. Dreams that had not included him.
Don’t go there. That certain road was a dead end and Clay pushed the history back into the dark box in the recesses of his mind, where he wouldn’t go.
“I need to make a couple of calls. I’ll get back as soon as I can. Joshua has an overnight with Ronnie, so he won’t be home until tomorrow. You just relax. Everything will be fine.”
Sure it will. Clay settled his hat lower on his head as he headed toward his pickup. He punched the speed dial number on his cell for his office and spoke briefly to his assistant. Heading toward town moments later, his mind tried to put things in perspective. Kaitlyn Russell. It was because of him that she stayed away from her hometown. Her actions made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him. He should be glad of that. It made it easier to get through the years. Right. Twelve years ago, he had been forced to make hard decisions. Decisions he’d have to live with. From great joy there had been great tragedy. He had endured it because there was no other choice. Those dark days wouldn’t claim him again.
The thoughts of those months still felt like a stone resting in his chest, even after all these years. Surely, Kat—or at least the Kat he had known—would be able to understand the code of honor he had always tried to live by. Which was why he’d done the right thing when he let her leave. And why he’d done the only thing, the “honorable thing” again, when he had realized it would be hopeless to spend the rest of his days longing for something that was out of his grasp. The course had been set, and he’d gotten through it. He’d gotten over her.
Don’t be a fool. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt there would be no getting over this woman. Not then, not now, and not ever again. And with her possibly coming back home, back to his home, since Georgia was staying there for a while, well, things could become very interesting, very fast. She wouldn’t be pleased.
His jaw tensed. He had a promise to keep. There was nothing he could do about the past. It was the present he had to concentrate on. That was his focus, and he needed to remember that. No matter what their past had been, Kaitlyn Russell and he needed to face each other again. Only she didn’t know it… yet.
Find Kaitlyn. The words reverberated in his mind in syncopation with the staccato “click clack” of Clay’s boots on the marble floor as it echoed off the walls of the tall-ceilinged rotunda of the county courthouse. With his cream Stetson pulled low over his forehead and the dark lenses of aviator glasses shielding his eyes from view, he moved with steady determination in his stride. He was a man on a mission and the message was loud and clear to anyone who might venture into his path… stay out of my way. Those who might have otherwise stopped him for a quick word or two only watched in silence as he reached the double doors leading to the outside. Only when he reached the bottom of the wide steps did he finally come to a halt.
“Hold on there, Clay! You’re a mighty hard man to catch up with. Didn’t you hear me calling your name back there?”
He looked up. Jace Blackhawke, a longtime friend and United States Marshal, was taking the last two steps behind him. They’d known each other since the days both served as rookie deputies, something that seemed like another lifetime ago.
“Guess my mind was on something else.”
“Personal or professional? Anything I can help with?”
“I wish you could,” Clay replied. Then he gave his mind a shake and pulled his thoughts together. “It’s something I promised Georgia I’d do for her. Her granddaughter’s back in Texas, and she wants me to find her and bring her to the ranch. I’m on my way to the heliport now. We may have a line on where she is.”
“I see. Seems I recall hearing something about her granddaughter… and you… a while back. You didn’t part on such good terms. That can’t make this easy.”
Jace didn’t miss much. He had a memory like a steel trap, too. Any other time, Clay would have welcomed insight from his friend, but not today. “What happened between her and me was a long time ago. Truth be told, she probably doesn’t even remember me.” That thought twisted something in the center of his chest. It would certainly be easier if that was the case. Or would it?
“You know, if ever you need anything, all you have to do is give me a shout.”
“Thanks, Jace. I’ll keep that offer in mind.” The men parted with a brief handshake.
Based on the last location they had on her, Clay had a fairly good idea of where Kaitlyn might be heading or, more precisely, the route she would be taking to get out of Texas. Finding her would be the easy part. The rest would be much more difficult. Jace’s description of their parting had been putting it mildly.
Clay had set out to make her hate him, and he’d done a good job of it.
End of Excerpt