Read Texas takedown Online

Authors: Barb Han

Texas takedown

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“You haven't slept. Do me a favor and try to close your eyes.”

He pulled his hand back, gathered up used supplies and tossed them into the garbage.

“Okay.” She bit back a yawn as he turned off the light.

He hadn't wanted to admit just how freaked out he'd been when he saw that she'd been shot. He'd stayed calm for her benefit.

Dylan couldn't even think about losing her, too.Where'd that come from?

Thankfully, Samantha would be all right.

“Will you come over here?” Her sweet, sleepy voice wasn't helping with his arousal.

The room had just enough light to see big objects without being able to tell what they were. His own adrenaline was fading, leaving him fatigued.

He walked over and sat down. She took his hand. Hers was so small in comparison, so soft.

“Will you lie next to me?” she asked in that sexy sleepy voice. “Just until I fall asleep?”

Texas Takedown

Barb Han

www.millsandboon.co.uk

BARB HANlives in north Texas with her very own hero-worthy husband, three beautiful children, a spunky golden retriever/standard poodle mix and too many books in her to-read pile. In her downtime, she plays video games and spends much of her time on or around a basketball court. She loves interacting with readers and is grateful for their support. You can reach her atwww.barbhan.com.

My deepest thanks go to my editor, Allison Lyons, and agent, Jill Marsal. The chance to work with both of you is truly a gift.

There are three people in this world who always inspire me, bring me joy and laughter, and teach me to be the best person I can be. I love you, Brandon (Hook'em Horns), Jacob and Tori.

To my husband, John, because you are the best part of all of it.

Contents

Cover

Introduction

Title Page

About the Author

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Extract

Copyright

Chapter One

Difficultdidn't begin to cover the past year for Dylan Jacobs. Not only had he discovered that he was a father, but he'd learned the mother who'd kept the baby from him was terminally ill. He'd wanted to be angry with her on both counts, but his frustration had died on the vine with every step toward the hospital where she lay losing her grip on life. And once he'd looked into his daughter's green eyes—a perfect reflection of his—he'd been wrapped around that little girl's finger.

Falling in love with Maribel had been the easy part. She had rosy cherub cheeks, dark curls for days and a laugh brighter than the Texas sun. Caring for a two-year-old who'd just lost everything known to her, everything comfortable, had been harder than his tour in Afghanistan.

What a difference a year made.

Dylan squatted at the end of the hallway just out of sight, listening intently as the sounds of Maribel's electric toothbrush hummed, then died. The pitter-patter of her bare feet on bamboo flooring in the hallway came next. She knew the drill, the same ritual they'd performed every morning since she'd come to live with him in Mason Ridge. She'd be on the lookout, ready to find Da-da.

Her giggle was like spring air, breathing life into everything around her. And he'd been on a certain path of destruction before she came into his life.

Thetap-tap-tapof her footsteps stopped at the end of the hall. She'd expected to find him by now.

“Da-da.”

He rolled and landed with his back against the floor a few feet away, arms spread open.

She jumped, squealed and clapped all at once. A second later, she launched herself on top of him. “Da-da!”

Thanks to reflexes honed by the US Army, he caught her in time.

“Airplane, Da-da,” she said. Herrcame out as aw.

Dylan extended his arms and made her fly. “Mrrrrrr, mrrrrrrr.”

A knock at the back door interrupted their playtime. It was probably for the best. Maribel shouldn't be late to preschool again. Dylan didn't think he could stomach another disapproving look from Mrs. Applebee. He might not be the most punctual guy when it came to dropping his daughter off at school, but no one could argue his love for the child. Not even stern-faced, disapproving Applebee. She might run a tight ship, but her heart was pure gold. More important, she loved Maribel.

He set his little girl on her feet next to him. “Daddy needs a favor. Go to your room, put on your shoes and grab your backpack.”

She planted her balled fist on her little hip and argued for a little more time as a plane.

The knock came louder this time. Dylan didn't like the sense of urgency it carried. “When you get home from school today, I promise. Okay, Bel?”

She pursed her lips and narrowed her gaze.

“And we can have ice cream after,” he threw in to tip the scale in his favor. “You don't want to miss your field trip to Dinosaur Park.”

“Ho-kay” came out on a sigh. She turned and bolted toward her room. Toddlers had one speed. It was full tilt.

Dylan popped to his feet in one swift motion and crossed to the kitchen, his muscles still warm from his early-morning push-ups. He liked to get his workout in before Maribel opened her eyes. When she was awake, his full attention was on her, had to be on her. Three-year-olds had no sense of danger.

Only a few people used his back door. He saw his friend Rebecca Hughes through the glass and motioned for her to come inside.

“Everything okay with Shane?” Shane was the younger brother she'd recently located who had been abducted at seven years old. Dylan tried not to think about the fact that Shane had been only four years older than his Maribel when he'd been taken from Mason Ridge and the Hughes family all those years ago. Even so, a bolt of anger flashed through him quicker than a lightning rod and with the same explosive effect.

“He's fine. I'm not here about him.” Didn't those words leave a creepy-crawly feeling all over Dylan?

“What is it? Something going on with Brody?” She had reunited with her high school sweetheart, who was one of Dylan's best friends, when the man responsible for kidnapping her and her brother as children had come back for her last month.

She shook her head. “It might not be anything. It's just that Samantha stopped answering her cell phone four days ago. I have a bad feeling.”

“You call her father?” he asked.

“Store says he's gone fishing,” she supplied. Samantha's father owned the only hardware store in town.

“So you want me to look into it?” Since opening the doors to his security consulting firm last year, he'd taken the occasional missing-person case, none of which had involved a friend's disappearance. He, Rebecca and Samantha had been part of a close-knit group of childhood friends. The group had broken up fifteen years ago when Rebecca and her brother, Shane, had been abducted.

For the past few weeks, everyone in town had been focused on the manhunt for the Mason Ridge Abductor after he'd returned to permanently quiet Rebecca. Her search for her brother had brought her too close to the truth. Thomas Kramer's grip on the community had lasted fifteen years, but luck had finally smiled on the town and they'd gotten him. He wasn't in prison, where he belonged, but he'd been killed in a car crash and that was just as good. Either way, he was no longer a threat.

Dylan thought about his word choice.Luck?There was a reason he didn't have a rabbit's foot tucked in his pocket. Hard work was reliable. Luck was for ladies in Vegas at the slot machines. Luck was for people who believed in things they couldn't see. Luck was for pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Dylan was far too practical to fall into that trap. People created their own luck.

With a state-of-the-art computer, a strong network of contacts and skills honed through the military, Dylan didn't have to rely on chance to help his clients.

Even so, he couldn't shake the bad feeling he had about Rebecca's visit.

Maribel bounded into the room, ran straight for Rebecca and wrapped tiny arms around her knees. “Auntie Becca!”

“Hey, baby girl.” Rebecca bent down to eye level and then kissed Maribel on the forehead.

The two had become fast friends. A tug Dylan didn't want to acknowledge stirred his heart. Rebecca was fantastic, don't get him wrong, but he suspected the bond had happened so quickly in part because Maribel missed her mother. He kept Lyndsey's picture on Maribel's nightstand. Maribel kissed the photograph every night before bed and then said good-night to her mother in heaven. It was important that Maribel knew just how much her mother had loved her. Even more important to Dylan was that Maribel knew her mother had wanted her.

On some level, he understood why Lyndsey had kept his daughter from him. He'd been partly to blame, having declared long ago that he never wanted kids or marriage. How many times had he told Lyndsey that parenthood was about the cruelest thing a person could do to a child? Too many.

His wild-child ways hadn't helped any. He had no right to hold on to anger when it came to Lyndsey's decision. She'd been trying to protect her baby.

Dylan never took for granted how very blessed he'd been from the day that little girl had come into his life. His only regret was that he hadn't known sooner, that Lyndsey hadn't realized how much being present in his child's life would mean to him. Had he been that much of a jerk?

The short answer? Yes.

He had to have been. Lyndsey would've trusted him otherwise. He couldn't blame her, either. How many times when they'd lain in bed in the mornings had he said their life was perfect the way it was? Dozens? Hundreds? He'd been so adamant that he'd almost convinced himself, too.

Down deep, he'd wanted a family of his own but he'd never have been able to admit that to himself. He'd always figured that he'd jack it up. History repeating itself and all that. Except the one thing Dylan knew above all was that he was nothing like his parents. He'd gone to great lengths to ensure it.

And yet he couldn't help but think he'd failed Lyndsey. Because of his stubborn streak, she'd gone through her pregnancy alone. Then she'd had a baby by herself. To top it off, she'd spent the first two years of Maribel's life without any help from him.

He could give himself the cop-out all day long that he'd have done better by Lyndsey if he'd known. Still didn't ease the sting of feeling as if he'd let her down in the worst possible way when she needed him. And then, before he could make any of it right, she'd died.

At least she hadn't done that alone—he'd made certain. He'd maintained a bedside vigil during her last days. She'd been in a coma and couldn't speak. The only thing she could do was squeeze his hand when he apologized for letting her down.

Dylan sighed sharply. Those memories had been packed away and stowed deep. So why were they resurfacing?

And how ridiculous did his point of view seem to him now? His life wouldn't be complete without that little rug rat. Maturity was on his side. But he never would have turned Maribel away. Lyndsey couldn't have known. She'd believed the wilder side of Dylan.

He turned to Rebecca. “I need to run Maribel to school and then I'll make a few calls. You want to stick around and wait? Coffee's fresh.”

“I wish I could stay. We've got a colt that's in trouble and Brody has his hands full. I better get back and help with the other horses.” She'd moved in with Brody after rekindling their romance, and they'd be announcing a wedding date any day now. Together they made a great team running his horse rehabilitation center, and the work looked to agree with her. Or maybe it was just the fact that she'd found someone who could make her happy.

Dylan had more pressing matters to think about than the complications having another female in his life would bring. His three-foot-tall angel kept him on the brink of exhaustion.

“I can take Maribel to school if you want. It's on my way home,” she offered.

Dylan figured that was Rebecca's way of saying she hoped he'd get started looking for Samantha right away.

Maribel was already jumping up and down, clapping her hands.

He nodded to Rebecca, even though he'd miss being the one to take his little girl to school. His part-time nanny, Ms. Anderson, usually picked up Maribel in the afternoons. She cooked suppers and stayed as long as Dylan needed her around. Said she enjoyed keeping busy after being widowed at the young age of sixty. When he'd hired her, she'd volunteered to come in first thing in the mornings, too, but Dylan had refused. He couldn't give up being the one to wake Maribel. His daughter might've come out of nowhere a year ago, but she was here to stay, in his home and in his heart. Dylan couldn't imagine his life any other way.

Between Ms. Anderson, Mrs. Applebee and Maribel, Dylan had plenty of estrogen in his life.

Having his own business allowed him to work from home a lot of the time and set his own schedule for the most part. But there were occasions when he had to be away overnight. He appreciated Ms. Anderson's flexibility.

“I'll call the headmaster and give up my volunteer spot on the field trip.”

“I'd hate for you to do that,” Rebecca said.

“I have a few other things to do today anyway. And I'm pretty sure Applebee could use a break from me. There's a wait list for these trips. This'll give another parent a shot.”

Maribel frowned.

“Hey, I worked the past two. It's good to share with the other parents so they can spend the day with their kids.” He took a knee. “Give Daddy big hugs.”

Maribel hesitated, then ran to him and he caught her as she tripped on her last step, scooping her into his arms, kissing her forehead.

With any luck, he'd be done in time to tuck his precious little girl into bed. Losing her mother had not been easy on her last year, and part of the reason he desperately wanted to make his security consulting enterprise work was so that he could be around and she could grow up surrounded by people who loved her. Dylan couldn't bring back her mother, but he'd vowed their Bel would always know she'd been wanted and loved. Unlike Dylan, whose parents had dumped him with his grandmother at six months old because the responsibility of caring for a baby had proved too much for the free-spirited hipsters. They'd split up a year later and had rarely visited. No birthday cards. No high school graduation appearance. No showing at his daughter's christening.

Dylan's child would never know that brand of rejection.

She turned toward Rebecca and launched herself again.

“Hold on there.” He caught her under her arms and pulled her back toward him. He helped secure her backpack before another round of hugs came.

Maribel stopped at the door and turned, smiling, one hand holding on to Auntie Becca's, the other waving back at him. “Bye-bye, Da-da!”

“Have a good day at school. Learn everything you can.”

“So I can be smarter than you,” she squealed. Those adorabler's rolling out likew's. The pediatrician had assured him she'd sort it out in the next year or so. He knew he should work harder on pronunciation with her but it was so darn cute the way she said her words. Because he'd missed out on the first two years of her life, a selfish part of him didn't want her growing up any faster than she had to.

“That's right.” Dylan watched Rebecca buckle Maribel into the spare car seat she'd pulled from her trunk. He stood at the window until the blue sedan disappeared down the drive.

His laptop was already booted up, so he snagged another cup of coffee and seated himself at the breakfast bar. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake the feeling that Maribel needed a female influence in her life even if he couldn't imagine having time to find one. Relationships were complicated. They required communication and commitment. The only thing Dylan was devoted to at the moment was finishing his cup of coffee.

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