He'd woken up weeks ago in a seedy hotel room--with no memory and a suitcase filled with cash. "Luke" knew nothing of his past, the money or the killers who wanted it back. But with the reflexes of a cat burglar, the instincts of a fugitive and the deadly shot of a gunslinger, Luke couldn't trust the cops. Hannah Dawson was his only hope.
As a former cop, Hannah had devoted her life to putting away bad guys like the darkly sexy, mysterious stranger she was now attracted to--undeniably, inexplicably and helplessly. She was in danger herself, but was it from the killers on their trail...or from Luke?
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May 01, 2010
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Excerpt from The Man from Texas by Rebecca York
It was an indecent hour of the evening, at least as far as Hannah Dawson was concerned. Too early for sleep. And too late to save her immortal soul.
The Baltimore Police Department had assured her that her soul was in no danger. Their seal of approval didn't change her feelings, though--not when eternal truths had been reduced to fuzzy concepts with no weight or substance. All she knew was that it was four months ago to the day that Sean Naylor had died.
So she sat in the Last Chance Bar, nursing the evening's second glass of white wine and wishing she could drown her guilt in drink. The problem was, she hated the effects of alcohol on her brain, which meant she never got very far in the drowning process.
She should go home, she told herself. But she knew the minute she stepped inside her Federal Hill apartment, the walls would start closing in. Leaning back in her chair, she pretended deep interest in her wine while she cataloged the other patrons, as if she were mentally getting ready to stick them in a lineup.
She'd given many of them pet names. Straw Flower, the woman with the dry blond hair who left with a different guy every evening. Paperback Reader, the man who downed three quick shots of bourbon then sat in a corner pretending to read a paperback novel. Suffering Sam, who sat hunched over one drink all evening.
And the new guy. The Outlaw. He'd been here for the past three nights, his rangy body slouched behind a table as he slowly sipped a beer.
He looked out of place in the bar. Out of place in an East Coast city like Baltimore, actually. Riding the range on a horse was more his milieu--with a posse in hot pursuit. Not because he was wearing Western clothing. In fact, his brilliant white running shoes, stiff jeans and inky-black T-shirt looked as if they'd just come off the rack. No, it was the weathered, sunburned look of his face, the way he moved, and the hard muscles of his chest that suggested he'd spent his time outside. And something about his watchful eyes made her think he could be on the run.
From the law?
Or was he, like her, running from himself?
Hannah had noticed him right away and passed a good deal of time covertly studying him. His hair and eyes were dark. His cheekbones sharp. His nose and lips narrow. The face was the kind that would blend well into a crowd. But the easy grace of his movements drew the eyes. At least her eyes.
What kind of voice would go with that hard exterior? More than once she'd imagined herself asking him a question just for the pleasure of hearing the answer. But she never did, of course.
She had the feeling he was giving her a similar once-over, although she'd never actually caught him looking directly at her.
Or perhaps she was making it all up, since the obsession was a way to pass the time, and passing time was one of her chief occupations these evenings.
She glanced at her watch. Eleven-thirty. Too early to go home. Too late to stanch the restless feeling in her gut.
After paying for her drinks, she exited into the night, aware of the reassuring weight of her Sig Sauer in its holster under her jacket. This wasn't the worst neighborhood in the city, but she'd learned caution from her days in the Baltimore P.D. Of course, she didn't know whether she'd lost the ability to fire the gun at another human being. She'd have to face that obstacle when she came to it.
She sucked in several breaths of the cool spring night air, then started toward the row house where she'd rented a room for the past few years. As a Baltimore City cop, she'd liked living close to her work. Now that she'd resigned from the force, she'd lost some of her enthusiasm for the city, but she still found the location convenient to her new job at the Light Street Detective Agency.
Out on the streets, old habits asserted themselves. When Hannah thought she heard footsteps behind her, she stopped and surveyed the area. But a man only walked past, moving rapidly down the block and disappearing inside a row house.
She passed her own apartment and kept going toward the Science Center. Pulling the collar of her jacket closed, she stood for a few minutes watching the lights of the shopping pavilions winking at her across the water of the refurbished Inner Harbor, wondering what it would be like to step into a time machine and repeat the last six months of her life. Would she do anything differently? Or had her fate been sealed when she'd been assigned to the Turner investigation?
Her hands clenched as she remembered the tongue-lashing she'd gotten from Gary Flynn, the man she'd thought she loved.
"Suck it up and get over it, Troop. If you don't want to shoot bad guys, quit and go to work at Burger King. Then you can have it your way. Until then, stop whining and get your ass back out on the street where it belongs."
There had been more. Worse. Things she'd never thought she'd hear from someone who cared about her. She'd stared at him in shock, stood with her arms wrapped protectively around her shoulders as he'd walked away with a disgusted expression on his face.
As soon as he'd left the room, her knees had buckled and she'd sunk into a chair by the window. The next morning, she'd mustered the strength to pack her clothes and leave. And after a couple of nights in the spare room of her friends Jessie and Miguel Valero, she'd found her own apartment.
She'd salved her pride a little with the knowledge that she was the one who'd moved out. But that hadn't eased any of the pain.
All at once it was impossible to stop her mind from spinning back to the worst moments of her life. Four months ago to the day.
She was on another darkened street--this one strewn with trash. She and two other police detectives, facing a group of tough-looking drug dealers.
One of them hurled an obscenity into the darkness. Another drew a gun and fired, the noise reverberating in her head. Then her own gun was in her hand, and she was squeezing the trigger--once, twice.
Around her, the night air exploded with sound. Gunshots. Running feet. Shouts of fear. When the crisis was over, one of the drug dealers lay on the sidewalk gasping for breath, the front of his shirt covered with blood. When Hannah knelt beside him, he turned his face toward her, made a gurgling sound in his throat, called for his mother.
As she stared down into his cloudy eyes, all she could think was that he looked like a scared, confused kid who'd sneaked out of the house when his parents thought he was home in bed.
The sound of an ambulance filled her brain. Then paramedics pushed her out of the way, working over the limp body on the sidewalk.
She hadn't known then whether it had been a bullet from her gun that had killed Sean Naylor. Later, she'd found out that it wasn't. But that hadn't done anything to ease her guilt.
The memory was so vivid, the awful feelings so strong that the awareness of her surroundings had completely faded from her consciousness. But the present snapped back into focus with vivid clarity as she felt a body hurtle out of the darkness, crashing against her with enough force to knock her off her feet. She had time for only a choked scream as a large male shape took her down to the cold pavement, covered her body with his.
God, how could she be so stupid? On the street at night and oblivious.
"Got ya, bitch," a voice snarled as the back of her head collided with the edge of the pavement. Momentarily paralyzed from the blow, she felt steely fingers close around her throat, shutting off her oxygen supply. Her hand scrabbled desperately for her gun, but a knee pinned her arm in place, and the hands clamped around her windpipe made her feel as though time and space were contracting around her.
Her hearing faded, her vision blurred and her limbs turned to lead. Then, just before she blacked out completely, the body covering hers was suddenly ripped away, and sounds came toward her from out of the darkness. Swinging her eyes to the right, she saw two men fighting, rolling across the ground, trading punches. There was a grunt, a shout and then what looked like a desperate struggle for freedom on the part of one of the combatants. He tore himself loose and dashed away into the night.
Still gasping for breath, she watched as the other man pushed himself up and tore off after the running figure.
In a few minutes one of the men was back, cursing as he knelt on the pavement and loomed over her. Hannah didn't even know which one he was--her attacker or her savior. Before she could make another try for her gun, he grabbed her hand in a grip that immobilized her whole arm. But his voice was as smooth as aged bourbon as he drawled, "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."
He shifted so that light from the harbor illuminated his chiseled features, and she saw it was the man from the bar. The one she'd called the Outlaw.
It was difficult to make her eyes focus on him. Difficult to put any strength into her voice. But she managed the latter. "What are you doing here?"
"I was following you," he answered, as if that was all the explanation she needed, would ever need.
"I saw a guy fall into step behind you when you walked out the door."
So she'd been right in the first place about being followed, her dazed brain informed her--for all the good it had done her. She'd been too caught up in the past to keep her mind on her surroundings. Stupid. Very stupid.
"You're hurt," he said, and it registered in her solar plexus that his voice was a perfect foil for his tough exterior. Low and husky and slow, with a nice touch of down-home warmth.
His hands moved up and down her arms, then her legs, his touch much too intimate.
When she slapped at his hand, he shook his head. "Don't. I'm just makin' sure you don't have any broken bones."
"I'm all right," she answered too quickly. As she pushed herself up, she felt a sharp pain several inches above the place where her head joined her neck. To her vast relief it settled into a dull throb.
"What is it? Your head?"
He looked up and down the street before his attention turned back to her. "You need to get inside, darlin'."
Rock-solid arms lifted her to her feet. She wanted to tell him that she didn't need any help. But protest had moved beyond her reach. So she directed him down the sidewalk in the direction from which she'd come, to the converted row house where she lived, and up a flight of steps to number three.
When she simply stood there in the hallway, swaying like a flower in a light breeze, he reached into her right front pocket, his fingers groping her thigh.
Hannah roused herself enough to demand, "What the hell do you think you're doing now?"
"Gettin' your key. Gettin' you out of harm's way," he answered, his tone going gruff.
He pulled the key from her pocket, inserted it in the lock and turned.
He was still holding her with one hand as he pushed the door open. Wrenching away, she careened across the threshold and into the living room, landing heavily in the easy chair beside the old mantelpiece.
The effort had winded her, and she slumped there, breathing in painful gasps.
He stood where he was, his hands shoved into his pockets, as if he knew damn well that she wouldn't welcome any more physical contact. Still, his assessment from four feet away was unnerving.
Trying to ignore him, Hannah reached to cup the back of her throbbing head and encountered sticky wetness. When she brought her hand down to eye level, she saw that her palm was red with blood.
Her gasp brought him instantly to her side. When he saw the blood, he gave her a reassuring look. "Head wounds tend to bleed like a son of a bitch, but I'd better wash it off and see what's going on."
She wanted to tell him she didn't need any help. Instead, she simply sat there, too lethargic to protest when he disappeared down the hall. All she could do was lean forward to keep the blood from getting on the corduroy slipcover she'd sent to the cleaners when she'd been in her demon-housekeeper phase.
A few moments later, he reappeared with a hand towel, some antiseptic and a box of gauze pads from her medicine cabinet. Standing beside the chair, he cradled her head against his taut middle with one hand, and she closed her eyes, taking slow deep breaths and trying not to react to the physical contact.
She had been numb inside for a long time, and now, as this stranger held her head and moved his fingers gently through her hair, she felt something inside herself stir--something she didn't welcome.
Not after what had happened with Gary. A long time ago he'd held her with the same tenderness, undressed her, washing her shoulder where she'd been hit by flying glass. And she'd thought she could depend on his comfort and support for the rest of her life. That was only a few months before she'd found out how things really stood between them.
The memory made her stiffen. When she tried to jerk away from the man who cradled her head, his hold tightened--not painfully but with a commanding firmness.
"Easy, darlin'," he said in the slow, delicious voice that started to melt the frozen block of ice deep inside her.
She felt his stomach muscles ripple as he pressed her cheek more tightly to his body, but he said nothing more as he brushed aside her hair and carefully swabbed the raw wound on her scalp with antiseptic.
"You've got a knot back here, and a cut. Not too deep. But it could use a couple of stitches."
"What do you mean no?"
Damned if she was going to let anyone know she'd messed up this evening. A picture flashed in her mind: her in the emergency room, bumping into some of her former colleagues on the police force who were there on official business. They'd be surprised and sympathetic. They'd ask what had happened to her. Then next thing you knew, everyone would be talking about how she'd screwed up.