Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing


Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing

Book 4 of the Cold Case Series

Cold Case in Cherokee Crossing

A decades-old cold case is testing everything one Texas Ranger thought he knew about obtaining justice…

A lot of men on death row profess their innocence. Those men are mostly just scared of dying. Jaxon Ward understands that, but as a Texas Ranger he needs to uphold the law. Yet the story Avery Tierney tells him… He’s convinced her brother is awaiting execution while the real killer remains at large.

Searching for the murderer opens old wounds for Avery, and now she has to face a past so traumatic she blocked it out. A past not so dissimilar to Jax’s. Before long, the only comfort they find is in each other’s arms. Avery’s lost everything once before. And now, if she loses Jaxon, she fears she’ll never recover.

Cold Case at Carlton’s Canyon


Cold Case at Carlton’s Canyon

Book 4 of the Cold Case Series

Cold Case at Carlton's Canyon

Two officers’ badges—and hearts—are on the line in Rita Herron’s Cold Case at Carlton’s Canyon

Sergeant Justin Thorpe has dedicated his life to justice and won’t stop until he finds the vicious serial killer who has already claimed ten innocent lives. He works solo—until he joins forces with Sheriff Amanda Blair. The Texas Ranger can’t let his desire for his coworker keep him from his mission, especially when Amanda’s life is threatened.

Ten girls have vanished—one for every year since Amanda graduated from Canyon High. And as she tries to fight her attraction to a man as independent as she is, a trap is being laid to make Amanda the final victim in a killer’s terrifying endgame….

Safe with Him


Safe With Him

Book 3 of the Manhunt Series

Safe With Him

All Kaylie Whittaker wanted for Christmas was to protect her daughter from the madman who killed her husband…

All five-year-old CeCe Whittaker wanted was to have a real home for the holidays…

All Texas Ranger Sergeant Mitch Manning wanted was to drown his sorrows in a bottle.

Then Kaylie and CeCe snuck into his abandoned ranch house, looking terrified and obviously on the run, and his detective instincts surged to life. But he’d lost one family because of his job, and he refused to make room for this woman and her little girl in his heart.

Still, he was a Texas Ranger and he would protect them or die trying…

Safe in His Arms


Safe in His Arms

Book 1 of the Manhunt Series

Safe in His Arms

She will do anything to escape her ex-husband…

He will do anything to find her…

And Texas Ranger Sgt. Alex Townsend will do anything to save her…

Even if it means giving up his life.

Safe by His Side


Safe by His Side

Book 2 of the ManhuntSeries

Safe by His Side

Lenora Lockhart barely survived a dangerous killer five years ago…
But now he’s escaped prison and wants his revenge.

Can Texas Ranger Micah Hardin, the man who saved her once, protect her again?

Or will he die trying?

Rawhide Ranger


Rawhide Ranger

The Silver Star of Texas Series

Rawhide Ranger

Texas Ranger Cabe Navarro was full-blooded Comanche—his ripped frame even recalled history’s greatest warriors. Raven haired and eagle-eyed, Cabe trespassed on sacred land to investigate ritual murders, only to fix his full attention on the daughter of a local rancher.

They were on opposite sides of the law, and their initial attraction could have killed the case dead. But when Jessie Becker became a prime target for foul play, all bets were off. Knee-deep in dangerous territory, Cabe made quick decisions to keep her alive—and almost at arm’s length. He knew she needed his brand of protection, as a Texas Ranger and as a man. And that he was helpless to fight it when the line between the two started to blur…

“The case is not over,” Ranger Lieutenant Wyatt Colter announced to the task force gathered in the courthouse in Comanche Creek. “We still have a murderer to catch.”

Ranger Sergeant Cabe Navarro frowned. The last place in the world he wanted to be was back in his hometown. When he’d left it years ago, he’d sworn never to return.

But he couldn’t disobey an order. And so far, the multiple murder case had been a mess. National media was starting to take interest, and if they didn’t solve the case soon, the Rangers would be usurped by the FBI and look incompetent.

None of them wanted that.

Still, if they thought he could be a buffer between the Native Americans and Caucasians in town, they were sorely mistaken.

Cabe had never fit in either world.

Ranger Lieutenant Colter introduced the task force members. Forensic anthropologist Dr. Nina Jacobsen. Ranger Sergeant Livvy Hutton who absentmindedly rubbed her arm where she’d just recently been shot. And Reed Hardin, the sheriff of Comanche Creek.

Hardin cast a worried and protective look at Hutton, cementing the rumor that Cabe had heard that they had gotten involved on the case and now planned to marry.

“Okay,” Wyatt said. “Let’s recap the case so far. “First, two bodies were found on the Double B, Jonah Becker’s ranch, property the Native Americans claim was stolen from them. The first body was Mason Lattimer, an antiquities dealer, the second, Ray Phillips, a Native American activist who claimed Becker stole the land from the Natives.”

“They have proof?” Cabe asked.

“Supposedly there is evidence that suggests Billy Whitley forged paperwork to make it appear that the land originally belonged to Jonah Becker’s great-greatgrandfather. That paperwork overrode the Reston Act which had given the Natives ownership.”

Cabe made a sound of disgust in his throat. “No wonder the Native Americans are up in arms.”

Lieutenant Colter nodded, then continued, “Marcie James, who worked at the land office, had planned to testify against Jerry Collier, the lawyer who brokered the deal, but she went missing two years ago. Evidence indicated she was murdered and buried on the property and construction of the road going through was halted.”

He paused. “But we now know Marcie faked her kidnapping and murder. She resurfaced though, but someone caught up with her, and killed her at a cabin on Becker’s property.”

Sheriff Hardin stood, a frown on his face. Cabe had heard that Hardin was protective of his town and his job. “My deputy Shane Tolbert was found standing over Marcie’s body holding a Ruger. He claimed he was knocked unconscious and someone put a gun in his hand. We arrested him, but forensics indicated that the blood spatter and fingerprints were consistent with his story, so he was released.” Hardin rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “But his father, Ben, was certain we were gunning to pin the crimes on his son, and tried to kill me and Sergeant Hutton.”

“Ben Tolbert is in jail?” Cabe said.

“Yes. He copped to threatening us and destroying key evidence, as well as setting fire to the cabin where Marcie was murdered, but not to murder.”

“Daniel Taabe, the leader of the Native American faction, was also murdered?” Cabe asked, knowing Taabe’s death was the trigger for bringing him into the case. Everyone in town thought the Rangers were trying to cover up the crime.

“Right.” Lieutenant Colter’s eyes snapped with anger. “So far, our suspects include Jonah Becker, his son Trace, his lawyer Jerry Collier who brokered the land deal, the mayor Woody Sadler who could have been protecting Shane as Ben did, and possibly Charla Whitley, Billy Whitley’s wife.”

Holy hell. Half the town were suspects. Between that and the war raging between the Caucasian faction and Native American faction, he had his job cut out.

Especially since both sides detested him.

He’d get this case tied up as soon as possible, and leave town. And this time, nothing would bring him back.

Anxiety plucked at Cabe as he parked at the Double B where the murder victims’ bodies had been found. He scanned the area, half expecting an ambush.

Someone had been sabotaging the investigation at every turn, and he had to be on guard every minute.

According to the lieutenant, Jonah Becker was furious at having the Rangers on his property. And he certainly wouldn’t welcome Cabe in town or on his ranch.

Jonah had always made it clear that he thought the Comanches were beneath him.

Not that Cabe cared what the rich bastard thought. He’d dealt with prejudice all his life. Prejudice from both sides.

But his Native blood ran deep. So did his cop instincts.

And as he climbed from his SUV, the scent of death surrounded him.

According to Dr. Jacobsen, the forensic anthropologist brought in to study the bones of an unnamed cadaver that had also been found here, one grave held ancient bones belonging to a Native. That grave suggested that this land was a Native American sacred burial ground. Worse, the body had been moved.

Dr. Jacobsen was right.

The ancient war cries and whispers of the dead bombarded him as he walked across the dusty, rock-strewn rugged land. There were other graves here. Graves of Natives who’d been buried long ago. Spirits who were upset that their sacred grounds had been disturbed.

Noting the plywood platform the forensic anthropologist had built to excavate the first finds, he muttered a silent thanks that Dr. Jacobsen had respected the grounds.

The image of the most recent corpse in the morgue flashed back, jolting him to the past and the reason he’d left years ago. The way the legs had been bound with chord, the face painted red, the eyes glued shut with clay—all part of the Comanche burial ritual. Just the way Daniel Taabe’s had been.

And exactly the way his little brother had been buried as well. Pain and grief suffused him. His little brother had died because his father had relied on the Big Medicine Ceremony to heal him instead of taking him to the hospital as Cabe had begged.

The moment they’d buried Simon, Cabe had left town, and he hadn’t spoken to his father since.

Shaking off the bitter memories, he studied the area where the bodies of the antiquities dealer Mason Lattimer and Native American activist Ray Phillips had been discovered. Forensics had already combed the area and bagged everything they’d discovered. He didn’t expect to find anything new, but took a few minutes to search himself. Yet as he touched his finger to the ground, a sense of violence and pain assaulted him full force.

He could always sense death. It was part of his Comanche heritage.

Now the stench, the anguish and suffering, the cries of the fallen Native Americans filled the air as if they still walked the land. He heard their footfalls, the stampeding horses, the screams of women and children and battle cries echoing from the ground. He saw their ghostly spirits gathering as one.

Their collective shouts that this land belonged to them.

With his gloved hand, he pushed aside a clump of thorny brush and pushed at the dirt below, then dug a sample of the clay from the ground. The lab could verify if it was the same clay used in the burial ritual.

“You’re going to jail, Becker,” he muttered. Tipping back his Stetson, he collected a sample and bagged it.

Horse hooves pounded against the ground, the sound coming closer. He glanced up, half expecting to see more spirits, but instead a woman wearing a black Stetson with silver trim approached, riding a palomino, her long curly red hair flowing in the wind.

Dammit. Jessie Becker, Jonah Becker’s daughter. He’d heard about her, seen pictures of her. She was not only a knockout but supposedly the brains behind the ranch’s recent rise in success.

And she hated the Rangers being on her land, had thwarted their attempts to interrogate her father, protecting him at every turn.

She galloped toward him, rage and anger spewing from her aura as she brought the horse to a halt barely inches from his side and glared down at him. The morning Texas sun was nearly blinding him, and he shifted his own Stetson to shade his eyes so he could see her more clearly.

God, she was a sight for sore eyes. Her nose was dainty, eyes a crystal shade of green like fresh spring grass, her body full of sexy curves. And those legs…

Her lean legs hugged the horse’s flanks just the way they would a man.

His body tightened, his sex hardening against his fly.

Double damn. He didn’t need or want to be attracted to the rancher, not when they were on opposite sides of the land issue—and perhaps the murders.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” she asked.

In spite of the anger in her voice, Cabe bit back a smile at her sassy tone. He hated pansy, whiny women and judging from her attitude—and the way she rode—she didn’t fit that category.

But he had his priorities straight. His work as a Ranger. His people—the Comanches.

And women.

In that order.

The spitfire redhead giving him a go-to-hell look was a complication. But now the damn sex kitten—rather, tigress—was part of the job, part of the task force the Rangers had put together, and he had to deal with her.

He stood to his full six-four and pasted on his most intimidating stare. “Sergeant Cabe Navarro,” he said. “I’m investigating the recent murders.”

She slid one leg over the side of the palomino and dismounted as if she’d been born in the saddle, then planted her hands on her hips and squared her shoulders. Still, her head barely came to his chest, and he could pick her up with one hand tied behind his back.

“When are you Rangers going to stop harassing my family?” she barked.

His gaze settled over her, intense and suspicious. Since the Rangers had arrived, she’d been more or less the spokesperson for the Becker family. What was she hiding?

“When we find the evidence we need to put away your father for stealing Native American property.” He paused for emphasis. “And for murder.”

Jessie Becker ground her teeth in frustration at the tall, dark-skinned Ranger’s threat. She knew exactly why he was here, and she had about as much use for him as she had for the other Rangers and the sheriff who’d been traipsing all over her property the past few days.

No, she had no use for him. They’d brought out the big guns now. This one was Native American, a sexy broad-shouldered hunky one at that. But his heritage meant that he would definitely be out to slaughter her family.

And her as well.

She had to protect her family.

“My father didn’t steal this land, and he certainly never killed anyone.” Her tone matched his, and she dug the silver toe of her boot into the dirt.

“Are you sure about that, Miss Becker? Maybe you don’t know your father as well as you think.” He stepped closer, tilted his head sideways and pierced her with his laser eyes. “Or maybe you’re covering for him.”

Her stomach fluttered with awareness, but she steeled herself against his accusations—and his sinful looks. The fringed rawhide jacket he wore gave him a rugged look that matched his brusque masculinity. Shoulder-length, thick black hair brushed his neck and his eyes were the darkest color of brown she’d ever seen. Brown and sultry and mysterious.

They were also as cold and intimidating as his thick, husky voice.

Both of which could melt the clothes right off a woman. Even hers and she was a hard sell when it came to men.

But she had to stay on her toes and couldn’t let down her guard—or her bra straps—for a second.

“Or maybe you arranged to buy the land illegally,” he said, “and you’re responsible for murder.”

“How dare you?” She raised her hand back, balled it into a fist, tempted to slug him, but his eyebrow went up in challenge, and her sanity returned. She had to get a grip. She couldn’t attack the law or she’d end up in jail. Then what would her father do?

“How dare I what?” he asked. “Try to find out the truth? Try to solve the murders that occurred on your property?”

He inched closer, so close his breath brushed her cheek. A breath that hinted at coffee and intimacy and…sex.

She folded her arms, ignoring any temptation to take another whiff. “I thought Billy Whitley killed Marcie James, Daniel Taabe, and those others?”

He shrugged. “We have reason to believe that someone else might be responsible, that Billy Whitley’s suicide note might have been forged.”

“What makes you think that?”

“The handwriting analysis didn’t pan out after all, and the blood used in the ritualistic burial doesn’t match Billy’s.”

“What blood?” Jessie asked.

“The Comanches bury their dead in a ritualistic style. They bend the person’s knees, bind them with a rope, then bathe them. Then they paint the deceased’s face red, and seal the eyes with clay. The red face paint is made from powdered ochre mixed with fish oil or animal grease and blood.” He paused again to make his point. “Human blood.”

In spite of her bravado, Jessie shivered slightly.

“After that, they dress the deceased in the finest clothing, lay them on a blanket, then wrap the body in another blanket and tie them with buffalo-hide rope. The body is placed in a sitting position on a horse and taken to the burial place west of the Comanche settlement and buried.”

“So you really think this land is sacred?”

He gave a clipped nod. “Yes. The cadaver found was definitely Native American, the bones years old.”

Jessie rubbed her arms with her hands. “But why would Billy admit that he killed Marcie and Daniel if he didn’t?”

Sergeant Navarro’s eyes darkened. “Because someone forced him to write that confession, or forged it.”

Tension stretched between them as she contemplated his suggestion. “If you think my father did all that, you’re crazy.”

Beneath the Badge


Beneath the Badge

The Silver Star of Texas Series

Beneath the Badge

As a Texas Ranger, Hayes Keller was used to tough assignments. But protecting Taylor Landis after a recent attack and keeping his professional distance was the most challenging job Hayes had ever faced. Every instinct told him not to let her get under his skin, but sticking by her side—all day and through the hot summer night—was pushing him to the limit. Still, he needed to keep his cool until her attacker was caught. No matter how much she insisted there was more beneath Hayes’s badge than just a sexy, masculine Texas Ranger.

“Taylor Landis needs protection.”

Sergeant Hayes Keller pushed his half-eaten blood-red steak away, his appetite vanishing. He knew Brody McQuade, his lieutenant, was still pissed at him for sleeping with his sister, Kimberly, and forcing him to babysit the richest, prissiest heiress in Texas must be his way of punishing him.

“But Montoya killed Kimberly,” Hayes said, “and Carlson tried to kill Caroline, and you took care of him.”

Brody cleared his throat. “We have to tie up loose ends. I’m at the crime lab in Austin, and we got the results of Carlson’s autopsy. Egan said Carlson acted as if he’d been drugged, and the coroner found ketamine in his system.”

“Ketamine—that’s Special K on the streets. I’m not surprised,” Hayes said. “Carlson had money. He ran with the party crowd.”

Brody sighed, sounding weary. “We need to search Carlson’s place, see if we find evidence of the drug.”

“Why? He’s dead. Good riddance.”

“Yeah. But during the shoot-out, when Egan confronted Carlson about being on drugs, he denied taking anything.”

“So you think someone else drugged him?”

“That’s what I want to know.”

Hell. He wouldn’t be at all surprised that someone else wanted Carlson dead.

“And we still aren’t sure who planted that bomb that blew up Taylor’s car. It looks as if it was intended for her, not for Caroline. Which means that if Carlson tried to kidnap Caroline because she had him fired and he didn’t commit all these murders, someone else wanted to hurt Taylor.”

“So she’s still in danger.” Hayes slapped his beer down on the bar. He so wanted this case to be over, so he could leave Cantara Hills. “Carlson probably set the bomb.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Carolineis worried sick about Taylor. She said that Taylor admitted that Kimberly and Kenneth Sutton had argued before the hit-and-run. I want to know what that argument was about.”

Damn. Kenneth Sutton—the powerful and ambitious chairman of the City Board who was now running for governor. Kimberly had been interning in the man’s office before her murder.

And she had been upset about something that had happened with the board, that was the reason Hayes had been comforting her the night they’d ended up in bed. Although she’d refused to confide the reason.

Brody was right. They had to tie up every unanswered question. He owed Brody, and he owed Kimberly.

The waitress glanced at his beer to see if he wanted a refill. He did, but he shook his head and indicated he needed the check. Duty called.

“So who would want to hurt Taylor Landis?”

Brody grunted. “That’s what you need to find out. Could be related to her family’s foundation, or Sutton’s hiding something.” Brody hesitated. “Miles Landis is also suspect.”

Miles, Taylor’s half brother. The snotty brat had rubbed him wrong the moment he’d met him. “Yeah, I heard he’s had money troubles.”

“Right. And Taylor is supposed to inherit a boatload of money in four weeks, on her thirtieth birthday,” Brody continued. “That’s motive for Miles.”

Hayes grabbed the check and tossed down some cash, then strode toward the door. Tonight he’d wanted to drown himself in cheap beer, listen to country music and hang with the real people.

Instead, he had to head back to the neighborhood of the rich and greedy and Taylor Landis.

Could this day get any worse?

First the confrontation with Kenneth regarding his possible tampering with the bid for the new city library, then that ordeal with Miles at the restaurant.

The only highlight was the excitement about her best friend Margaret Hathaway’s upcoming wedding. Margaret had been alone a long time, had never gotten over giving her son up for adoption when she was fifteen. She’d even hinted at hiring a P.I. to look for him, but her father, Link, had insisted against it. Poor Margaret. Her friend’s pain had prompted Taylor to hire the P.I. herself. Finding out that her son’s adopted family loved him would make a perfect wedding gift to Margaret. Then she could finally have the happiness she deserved.

Her cell phone rang, and she checked the number as she turned into Cantara Hills. Miles.

Not again.

She let it ring until it went to voice mail, but a second later, it started all over again. Knowing he wouldn’t give up, she hit the connect button.

“I knew you were there,” Miles snarled.

“Listen, I already told you that I’m not giving you any money right now. Grow up and start being responsible.”

“You’ll be sorry for turning your back on me, Taylor.”

A chill swept up Taylor’s spine. “Is that a threat?”

His bitter laugh echoed over the line. “It’s a promise.”

The dial tone buzzed in her ear as he abruptly ended the call.

Taylor shivered. After her mother’s death, her father had quickly remarried. But his marriage to Miles’s mother hadn’t lasted long, and both she and Miles had been bitter and had tried repeatedly to milk him for money. But she’d never heard Miles so out of control. As she pulled down the drive to her mansion, she saw the crime scene tape in her driveway, and her senses jumped to alert.

The tape and the smoky, charred debris that had stained the imported Italian brick reminded her that someone had tried to kill her. That her body parts, instead of her BMW’s, could have been all over the lawn?.

If she hadn’t rescheduled her appointment, she would have been driving home at the time the bomb exploded. According to Sergeant Egan Caldwell, the device had been set on a timer. Which meant that someone had known her routine and had intentionally planned for the car to explode with her inside.

Could Miles have done it? Or was Carlson Woodward responsible?

But why would Carlson have wanted her dead?

Hugging her arms around herself, she scanned the front of her estate, feeling paranoid as she let herself in and checked her security system. Ever since the break-ins had started in Cantara Hills, she’d been nervous. Had expected to be hit. After all, her mansion held expensive furniture, paintings, vases, collectibles, and she had several exquisite customized one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry her father had given her over the years.

All tucked away in her safe because she rarely wore them. She enjoyed the advantages money offered, but didn’t flaunt her wealth. In fact, that money was sometimes a curse. While most girls had to worry about men wanting in their pants, she had the added hassle of wondering if they wanted to get into her bank account. Even her father used his wealth to replace his feelings for her with expensive gifts.

And the break-ins—did the police believe that Carlson Woodward was responsible for them? She frowned and walked through the kitchen to the foyer and the spiral staircase, then wound her way up to her suite.

But why would Carlson steal from the neighbors? He didn’t need the money. Her little brother, Miles, was a different story. He was so desperate for cash and angry with some of her friends who’d begun refusing him loans, that he might resort to theft.

She slipped into a bathing suit, sighing as her bare feet sank into the plush Oriental rug. Padding barefoot down the steps, she exited through the sunroom, grabbed a towel from the pool house and dropped it, along with her cell phone, onto a patio chair. The last vestiges of sunlight had faded hours ago, but the pool lights illuminated the terrace, bathing the intricately patterned stonework in a pale glow. The smell of roses from the garden along with hydrangeas bordering the patio scented the air, disguising the hint of chlorine, and she stared into the shimmering aquamarine water.

Still, thoughts of Carlson’s attack on Caroline haunted her. She and Caroline had been neighbors and friends for years now. Apparently, Carlson had spread rumors in the community about Caroline having an affair with Sergeant Egan Caldwell, and had even called her father to stir up trouble.

Then he had attacked Caroline. Thankfully Ranger Caldwell had rescued Caroline and shot Carlson. Unfortunately Egan had been injured in the confrontation. Now Caroline had accompanied him to Austin to take care of him while he recuperated. Taylor still couldn’t believe that Caroline had fallen for the surly ranger.

She dove into the water and began a crawl stroke. She and Caroline had joked about the three cowboy cops who’d invaded their country club community with their big bodies, hard attitudes and?guns. They’d dubbed Lieutenant Brody McQuade, Kimberly’s brother, the intense one. Sergeant Egan Caldwell, the surly one. And Sergeant Hayes Keller—he had a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas.

Still, an odd tingling rippled through her as she thought about him—he was all bad attitude. Big, brawny, muscular, with eyes as black as soot and a temper as hot as fire. He was just the kind of man she normally avoided because he looked as if he could snap a person into pieces with just one look. But still, he was dangerously sexy?.

Her stomach clenched. Where had that thought come from?

She didn’t even like the guy. When he’d questioned her, she’d felt his disdain carving a hole through her.

She’d be glad when he left the area.

She swam another lap, counting strokes, but suddenly the lights flickered off, both outside and inside, pitching the terrace into darkness. Her breath hitched. There wasn’t a storm cloud in sight, no reason for a power failure.

Something was wrong.

Scanning the terrace and garden for signs of an intruder, she swam to the pool edge to get out and call security. Suddenly a movement at the edge of the gardens by the pool house caught her eye.

A man?

Panic shot through her. She had to call for help. But the chair where she’d put her phone was next to the gardens.

And the only unlocked door was the sunroom door. She’d have to pass the pool house to reach it.

Taking a deep breath, she took off running, but before she reached the door, someone clamped a gloved hand over her mouth and encircled her neck with the other.

She clawed at his hands, but he dug his fingers into her larynx, cutting off her air. Remembering the self-defense moves she’d learned, she jabbed her elbow in his chest, brought her knee up then stomped down on his foot.

He growled in fury and tightened both hands around her throat. Blind panic assaulted her. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see. Desperate, she reached for something to use as a weapon as they fell against a patio chair. Her hand closed around a garden shovel and she stabbed backward with it, but he knocked it from her hand and it skittered across the terrace.

Enraged, he punched her jaw so hard her ears rang and she saw stars.

She had to fight back. But he hit her again, her legs buckled and her knees hit the stone with a painful thud. He shoved her face down, and she tasted blood as her head slammed against the brick wall encircling the patio. Then he dragged her toward the pool.

Summoning her last bit of strength, she flailed and kicked, clawed at him, but they tumbled into the pool.

Gasping, she struggled to fight her way back to the surface, but he was too strong. She held her breath, but her lungs were on fire, and he squeezed her throat so tightly that she choked and inhaled water.

Then an empty darkness sucked her into its vortex.

Hayes pulled to a stop at the iron-gated entrance to Taylor Landis’s estate, and pressed the intercom button. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited, but she didn’t respond. Dammit, even if she wasn’t home, didn’t she have servants at her beck and call day and night?

He pressed the call button again, his impatience growing. What the hell was she doing? Lounging in some hot bath with cucumbers over her eyes, sipping champagne? Entertaining one of her rich guy friends? Maybe they were wallowing in bed with all their money.

Hell, maybe she wasn’t home. Probably out shopping.

Still, he had to make sure she was safe. Resigned, he scanned the key card through the security system. But the card didn’t work. Dammit, had she changed the system without informing them?

Or could something be wrong?

His heartbeat slammed in his chest, and he climbed out, removed his weapon, vaulted over the fence and jogged through the oaks lining the mile-long driveway, scanning the property for an intruder.

As the house slid into view, he searched the front yard, the sign of the crime scene tape a reminder that Brody might be right—that Taylor Landis might be in danger. He sped up until he reached the house, a cold monstrosity made of stone and brick with arches and palladium windows.

The hair on the back of his neck prickled. Why were the lights off?

The lingering odor of smoke and charred grass assaulted him, and he paused, a noise breaking the quiet. Water? A sprinkler maybe? But it had rained last night so why would Taylor have the sprinkler on?

He hurried to the front door and rang the doorbell. The sound reverberated through the cavernous inside, an empty sound that came unanswered. He pressed it again, then glanced through a front window. Nothing looked out of place. But it was pitch-dark inside. Quiet.

No movement. And there hadn’t been a storm to knock out the power.

What if someone had disarmed Taylor’s security or cut her lights?

Another noise jarred him, and he jerked his head toward the side of the house, then realized the noise had come from the back.

Sucking in a breath, he wielded his gun and slowly inched along the length of the house to the side, then around the corner where a terrace held a pool, sitting area, fireplace, cooking pit and a pool house. A clay flowerpot was overturned, dirt spilled across the stone.

Senses alert, his gaze swept the perimeter and the gardens. A water hose lay on the ground, spraying the stone. He shut off the water, wondering why someone would have directed it toward the pool instead of the lawn.

His breath caught as he neared the pool. A body was floating facedown inside.


It was Taylor Landis.

Justice for a Ranger


Justice for a Ranger

The Silver Star of Texas Series

Justice For a Ranger

Rugged Texas Ranger Cole McKinney, abandoned by his father, hated the thought of helping his half brothers. Also Rangers, they’d called him back to Justice, Texas, to help solve two murder cases—cases with their father as the prime suspect. Solving these crimes could help mend the wounds of Cole’s past. Maybe even clear his so-called father’s name —

Gorgeous, curvy and whip-smart, Joey Hendricks came to Justice as the governor’s special investigator. Working the cases with Cole caused their emotions to burn so hot, a fiery night in bed might be their only release. But Joey’s own family secrets in Justice could blow her one chance for love – and these murders – sky high.

Hell must have finally frozen over in Justice, Texas.

That was the only explanation for the phone call requesting his services from his half brothers, Lieu-tenant Zane McKinney and Sergeant Sloan McKinney, both Texas Rangers.

As was Cole, but they had never met or asked for his help on a case before.

Not him—the bastard, bad-boy brother they all hated.

Cole traced a proud finger over the silver star he’d earned through his own blood, sweat and tears. He was a sergeant now himself. He’d made the grade with no help. No financial support or fancy education. No loving, doting parents.

Not like Zane and Sloan.

A bitter laugh rumbled from deep within his gut as he threw his clothes into a duffel bag, stepped into the hot sunshine and climbed on his Harley. Dammit. He’d been ordered to leave his current case behind, come straight out of the trenches where he’d been working a lead on a smuggling ring along the border, to assist in Justice.

Of course, his half brothers must be desperate to exonerate their father, to finally free him of the murder charges that had hung around his neck like an albatross the past sixteen years.A murder investigation that had been revived because Sarah Wallace, daughter of Lou Anne Wallace, the woman his father had slept with and had been accused of strangling with her own designer purse, had just been murdered in the same hotel room, in the same manner.

And most likely by the same person who’d killed her mother.

Bitterness swelled inside Cole as choking as the insufferable summer heat. Did his brothers actually think he gave a damn about the outcome? That he’d come running to team up with them to save their fa-ther because he wanted to see Jim McKinney’s good name restored?

Jim McKinney—the father who’d abandoned him and his mother. The father who’d never acknowledged his existence. The father who had been nothing more than a sperm donor on his behalf.

The man who’d broken his mother’s heart. Barb Tyler had never married after her short affair with Jim McKinney. She’d claimed Jim had ruined her for another man. And she’d taken that love with her to her grave no more than a year after Jim McKinney’s arrest. If Cole hadn’t known better, he’d have thought she’d died of grief for the man’s lost reputation herself.

He hated Jim for it.

Still, he was a Texas Ranger. Part of the most revered, effective investigative law enforcement agency in the world. And he was damn proud to be a lawman. God knows he’d been on a crash course to jail himself when Clete McHaven, the rancher his mother had cooked for, had caught him trying to steal from his ranch and had made him work off the debt or go to the pen.

He scrubbed a hand over his three days’ growth of beard stubble, knowing he looked like hell as he strapped on his biker’s helmet, cranked up the Harley’s engine and tore down the driveway. Dust and pebbles spewed from his tires as he careened onto the highway. Anger and determination had him pushing the speed limit.

Not that he was in a hurry to see the long-lost family that had cast him aside as if he was a leper.

But he had a chance to prove that a real Texas Ranger didn’t need book education or to be a good ole boy. That his tracking skills had earned him a spot as a top-notch lawman.

He had no intention of begging for accolades from the McKinneys, of trying to worm his way into their snotty huddle. Hell, he didn’t need them or their approval.

And he would not play favorites in the investigation.

Jim McKinney had been a bastard who couldn’t keep his pants zipped. And although he’d never been convicted of murder, if he had killed Lou Anne Wallace and her daughter, Cole would find out. Then he would snap the handcuffs around his wrists and haul him to jail where he belonged.

And he wouldn’t think twice about who suffered when he did.

TO SOME PEOPLE GOING HOME meant reuniting with loved ones. Reliving warm memories and seeing friends. Safety.

To Joey Hendricks it meant pain and anxiety. Opening wounds that had never healed. Dealing with her own guilt over her two-year-old brother’s disappearance sixteen years ago. And facing a mother and father she hadn’t spoken to in years. A mother and father who hated each other.

But she did work for the governor as a special investigator and when the infamous governor of the great state of Texas said jump, she jumped.

The sign for Justice, Texas, appeared, and she grimaced. At first sight, it looked like a cozy small town in which to raise a family. A place where everyone knew his neighbor, no one ever met a stranger and they would welcome her back with loving arms.

But secrets and hatred had festered in the town like sores that wouldn’t heal. And someone wanted to keep those secrets hidden. They’d murdered Sarah Wallace to do so and had tried to kill her sister Anna and the sheriff, Carley Matheson, when they’d searched for the truth.

Her heart turned over as she passed Main Street Diner. She’d been shocked when her mother, whose total culinary skills when Joey had been growing up constituted throwing together a plate of cheese and crackers to accompany her cocktail dinner, had bought the establishment. She’d been shocked even further to learn that Donna had given up the booze and pills.

Not shocked enough to want to see her just yet, though.

Oh, it was inevitable that she face both her dysfunctional parents, but first she wanted to learn more about the investigation. Just how much and what kind of evidence did the sheriff have against Leland and Donna Hendricks?

Late evening shadows cast gray lines across the street and storefront awnings as she spotted the Matheson Inn, where she’d reserved a room. She tightened her fingers around the steering wheel and veered into a parking spot, then stared at the burned-down ruins of the Justice jail. The sign for the police department had turned to black soot. Ashes, charred black wood, burned metal all lay in rubble. Only the metal bars of the jail cell remained standing, empty and exposed, as if still waiting for a prisoner. A stark reminder that the original killer had never been incarcerated. And now he’d murdered again.

Poor Sarah Wallace, Memories of her troubled teenage years haunted her. When Lou Anne and Leland had married, Lou Anne’s daughters, Sarah and Anna, had moved in with them for a short time. But they hadn’t been any happier about the union than Joey, so they’d moved out shortly after. She hadn’t been close to either of them, but she hated to think that Sarah had been murdered.

The stench of the fire and charred remains still filled the air, wafting in the suffocating heat as she climbed out. In front, a media crew and several locals had gathered, a camera rolling.

The very reason she was here. To control the media circus. More than one investigation had been blown because of some dim-witted or too-aggressive reporter. Innocent people had been tried and convicted in the process.

Other times the guilty had gone free.

The governor was adamant that the past not repeat itself. Lou Anne Wallace’s murderer had escaped sixteen years ago, as had the person who’d kidnapped Justin, Joey’s own baby brother. The town of Justice had never gotten over either event. Jim McKinney’s impeccable Texas Ranger reputation had been ruined because of his affair with Lou Anne and his subsequent arrest, his family shattered because of it.

And it had destroyed what was left of Joey’s already crumbling family, as well.

The governor had worked with the D.A.’s office at the time of Lou Anne’s murder. Ironically Joey had been afraid that her family name would hinder her career, but the governor had given her a chance to prove herself. And she had. In fact, Governor Grange had been more of a father figure to her the past four years than her own dad had.

And he’d trusted her enough to send her here now, trusted her to be objective about the McKinneys.After all, Jim McKinney’s sons were in charge of the case. Rangers investigating one of their own, especially a family member—definitely a conflict of interest.

Tucking a strand of her unruly blond hair behind one ear, she buttoned her suit jacket and headed to-ward the media. Harold Dennison, a reporter who had a reputation for causing trouble, stood in front of the dilapidated ruins recounting the events of the night of the fire.

“Local sheriff Carley Matheson and Texas Ranger, former sheriff of Justice and hometown boy Sergeant Sloan McKinney were inside the jail when an explosion rocked the walls and caused the building to catch fire. Both Sheriff Matheson and Sergeant McKinney barely escaped with their lives.” The camera panned across the site, capturing the destruction and violence.

“Sheriff Matheson has been taken to a safe house but continues to work in conjunction with the Texas Rangers to solve the current homicide, which appears to be connected to the murder of Lou Anne Wallace sixteen years ago.”

“Do they have any leads yet?” an elderly man asked from the crowd.

A woman in the front row hugged her children to her side protectively. “When will there be an arrest?”

“Did Jim McKinney kill Sarah Wallace and her mother?” someone else shouted.

Dennison caught sight of Joey, and a predatory gleam appeared in his eyes. “Good question. I see someone here who might have the answer.”

Joey braced herself for a confrontation. Dennison was like a snake coiled to attack anyone even remotely related to the crime.

And she was definitely related. “Miss Hendricks is from the governor’s office and, I believe, one of your own homegrown girls.” He offered a challenging look that sent alarm bells clanging in her head. His comment had been a direct hit to irk her.

She’d heard his ugly insinuations before. As if she was unworthy of working with the esteemed governor. The daughter of a small-town drunk and a rich oil baron father who might have sold his own baby’s life for a dollar.

Well, a hundred thousand to be exact, but same difference.

“Would you like to address the citizens?” Dennison extended the microphone to her as if they were working together.