"Come on, Colby," Ben Lassiter yelled, feeling like a fool running
along side the tractor. "You have to be reasonable. Get off
that damn thing and listen to me for once in your life. You're being
ancient tractor bounced along in the gathering dusk, shooting up
clouds of powdery dirt to spray over Ben's immaculate sheriff's
uniform. Colby waited until he was totally out of breath and at
a complete disadvantage before she stopped the tractor and sat staring
moodily out over the field. Very slowly she pulled off her leather
work gloves. "I'm getting tired of these visits, Ben. Just
whose side are you on, anyway? You know me. You knew my father.
These people don't belong here and they certainly don't have the
right to try to force me to turn over my brother and sister to them."
swiped at the dirt covering him, gritting his teeth against his
frustration. He took several deep breaths before he answered her.
"I didn't say it was right, Colby, but they have money and
power. You can't just ignore them. They aren't going to go away.
You have to talk to them or they're going to take you to court.
People like the De La Cruz brothers don't lose in court." He
raised his hands to grasp her small waist before she could jump
off the tractor by herself. Resisting the urge to shake some sense
into her, he lifted her down easily, retaining possession for a
moment. "You have to do this, Colby. I mean it, honey, I can't
protect you from these people. Don't put it off any longer."
pushed away from him, a small gesture of impatience, swinging her
head so her disheveled hair spilled out from under her hat, hiding
the sudden sheen of tears swimming in her eyes. Ben quickly looked
away, pretending not to notice. Colby in tears was lethal either
way. A man would have to kill for her if she cried, and anyone witnessing
her tears would be very likely to take the brunt of her anger.
Colby began moving across the field at a fast pace. "I presume
you have the entire lot of them camped on my porch?"
knew Ginny and Paul were gone tonight." Ben had ensured his
sister-in-law invited the two kids over for homemade ice cream.
that was hard to see through," Colby tossed the words sarcastically
over her shoulder at him. She had known Ben since kindergarten.
She was certain he persisted in thinking of her as a wild, untamed
little girl, not quite bright, when she was perfectly capable of
running a ranch all by her little lonesome and had been doing so
for some time. She wanted to box his thick skull for him.
don't go in there like a powder keg. These people aren't the type
to be pushed around." Ben easily kept pace with her.
around?" She echoed his words, suddenly furious, stopping abruptly
so that he had to rock back on his heels to keep from running her
to push me around. How dare they come here acting so arrogant I want to sic
the dog on them! Men!"
She glared at him. "And another thing, Ben. Instead of kissing
up to Mr. Moneybags and his entourage, you might consider what is
going on out here. All my equipment keeps disappearing and some
little gremlin is messing with the machinery. That's your job, isn't
it, not escorting the rich and infamous around." She began
moving again, setting her usual fast pace, her small feminine body
you and I both know it's a bunch of kids playing pranks. Probably
friends of Paul," Ben tried to soothe her.
I don't think stealing is a prank. And what about my missing person's
report? Have you even tried to find Pete for me?"
raked a hand through his hair in sheer desperation. "Pete Jessup
is probably off on a binge. For all you know that old man stole
your things to pay for his alcohol."
stopped again very abruptly, so that this time Ben did run into
her and had to catch her shoulders to keep from knocking her flat.
She slapped his hands away, a fine outrage smoldering in her. "Pete
Jessup quit drinking when my father died, you turncoat! He's been
invaluable around here."
Ben tried to calm her down, his voice persuasive and gentle. "The
truth is you took in that homeless old coot out of the goodness
of your heart. I doubt if he did more than eat your food every day.
He's a broken down cowboy, a drifter. He's just taken off somewhere.
He'll turn up eventually."
would say that," she sniffed, truly aggravated with him. "It's
just like you to let the disappearance of an old man and sneak thieves
go by the wayside so you can mix with some rich idiots who are here
to try to stealmy
brother and sister."
"Colby, come on, they proved they're relatives and they claim
they have the children's best interest at heart. The least you can
do is listen to them."
probably agree with them, don't you? Paul and Ginny are not better off with that group. You don't know anything about it, or
them. Paul would end up just like them, so arrogant no one could
stand him and poor little Ginny would grow up thinking she was a
second class citizen because she's female. They can all go straight
to hell for all I care!"
it was early evening and still relatively light, the sky suddenly
darkened as if a giant shadow was passing overhead. Black ominous
clouds boiled up out of nowhere. A cold wind arrived on the wings
of the dark mass, tugging sharply at Colby's body. A shiver of apprehension
blew straight down her spine. For a moment something touched her
mind. She felt it, felt the struggle for entrance. It was so real
she stopped moving and Ben nearly tripped over her again.
could see Ben was clearly uneasy as he turned in a slow circle to
scan the surrounding area. He had his hand on his gun unsure what
was stalking them or where the threat was coming from, but he obviously
felt it as well.
stayed very quiet, not moving a muscle, like a small fawn caught
in a poacher's light. She immediately sensed she was in mortal danger.
It wasn't hostile toward Ben, but she could feel the malevolence
directed at her. Whatever it was struck directly at her mind, seeking
entrance. She took a deep slow breath and let it out, forcing her
mind to stay blank, thinking of a wall, high, impregnable, a fortress
nothing could enter. She focused completely on the wall, keeping
it strong, impenetrable.
thing seemed to withdraw for a moment, puzzled perhaps by her strength,
but then it struck again, a hard thrust, spear-like that seemed
to pierce her skull and drive right for her brain. Colby uttered
a soft cry of pain and dropped to one knee, holding her head even
while she forced herself to breathe evenly and calmly. Her mind
was strong, invincible, a wall so thick and high no one would ever
break it down. Whatever malevolent thing was after her would not
be allowed to breach her defenses.
became aware, after a few minutes, of Ben's large hand on her shoulder.
He was bending over her solicitously. "Colby, what is it?"
she lifted her head. The presence was gone, winging away from her,
back towards the ranch house. "My head, Ben, I have the headache
from hell." She did too; it wasn't a lie. She'd never experienced
anything quite like the attack. She actually felt sick to her stomach,
and she wasn't certain she could walk without her head falling off.
Whatever it had been was strong and terrifying.
took her elbow, helped her to her feet. She was trembling, he could
feel the continuous shivering beneath his hand so he held on to
her. Colby didn't pull away from him independently like she normally
would have and that worried him. "You want me to call an ambulance?"
emerald green eyes laughed at him even as they mirrored her pain.
"Are you crazy? I have a headache, Ben. The mere thought of
contact with the Chevez family gives me major headaches."
brother and sister are both members of the Chevez family, Colby.
You would have been too if the adoption had gone through."
ducked her head, his words hitting her dead center in her heart.
Armando Chevez had never adopted her. He had confessed his reasons
on his deathbed, hanging his head in shame, tears swimming in his
eyes while she held his hand. He had wanted his grandfather to relent,
to accept him back into his family. Due to the circumstances of
her birth, Armando had known if he adopted her, his grandfather
in Brazil would never allow him to come back to the family. It had
been too late then, to push the paperwork through. Armando Chevez
was ashamed that he had betrayed her unconditional love for him
for a family who had never answered a dying man's letter. Colby
had remained loyal and loving, nursing him, reading to him, comforting
him right up until the day he died. And she still remained loyal
to him. It didn't matter that he had died before the adoption, Armando
Chevez wasn't her biological father, but he was her father all the
same. In her heart, where it counted.
way the Chevez family hated her had never mattered to her, but she
loved Armando with every fiber of her being. She loved him with
same fierceness she loved her brother and sister. As far as she
was concerned, the Chevez family didn't deserve Armando and his
children. And the two De La Cruz brothers, guardians and bullies
for the Chevez family, could go straight back to whatever hell had
spawned them. They were directly responsible for Armando's grandfather's
bitter hatred of her. She wasn't good enough to be a member of the De La Cruz family. Neither
was her beloved mother. Armando's grandfather pronounced she would
never be accepted into their illustrious family and his reasons
had been abundantly clear. Her mother had never married her father,
there was no name on the birth certificate and Armando's grandfather
would never accept an Anglo bastard into his pure blood family.
they moved around the vegetable garden towards the ranch house,
Colby slowed her pace, turning her mind inward for a moment to focus
her strength of will on control. It was important to stay calm and
relax and breathe naturally. She tilted her chin and walked with
her head up to meet the all powerful De La Cruz brothers and the
Chevez family members who had come to steal her brother and sister
and their ranch.
were gathered together on her small porch. Juan and Julio Chevez
resembled Armando so much Colby had to blink back unexpected burning
tears. She had to remember this was the family who had so cruelly
rejected her mother because she had given birth to Colby out of
wedlock. This was the same family who had callously ignored her
beloved stepfather's pleas and allowed him to die without so much
as a word from them. Worst of all, they were here to take Paul and
Ginny away and to confiscate the ranch, their father's last legacy.
saw her lift her chin and he sighed heavily. He had known Colby
nearly all of her life. She had a stubborn streak a mile wide. If
these men underestimated her because she was young and beautiful,
because she looked small and fragile, they were in for a big surprise.
Colby could move mountains if she set her mind to it. He had never
seen anyone so determined, with such strength of will. Who else
could have nursed a dying man and run a huge ranch with only the
help of an old broken down cowhand and two kids?
walked right up to the two men, her slender shoulders straight,
her small frame as tall as she could make it. "What can I do
for you gentleman?" Her voice was polite, distant, she gestured
toward the chairs on the porch rather than inviting them into her
home. "I looked very carefully over the papers you sent and
I believe I already gave you my answer. Ginny and Paul are United
States citizens. This ranch is their legacy, entrusted to me to
preserve for them. That is a legal document. If you wish to dispute
it, you can take me to court. I have no intention of turning my
brother and sister over to complete strangers."
man stirred, he was back in the shadows. Her gaze jumped to his
face, her heart pounding. It was strange she hadn't noticed him
immediately. He seemed blurred, a part of the gathering darkness.
As he stepped under the porch light, she could see he was tall and
muscular, very imposing. His face held a harsh sensuality, his eyes
black and cold. His hair was long, pulled to the back of his neck
and somehow secured there. He made her heart race and every warning
sense shrieked at her. He held up his hand effectively silencing
Juan Chevez before he could speak. That imperious gesture, stopping
the proud, very wealthy Brazilian, set her heart pounding. She had
a feeling he could hear it. The brothers moved aside as he glided
silently forward. The parting of the Red Sea, Colby thought a little
hysterically. Was there a touch of fear in the eyes of the Chevez
stood her ground, trembling, afraid her rubbery legs might not hold
her up. This man scared her. There was an edge of cruelty to his
mouth and she had never seen such cold eyes, as if he was without
a soul. She forced herself to stand, not to look at Ben for assurance.
Clearly this man could take a life and never think twice about it.
That made her all the more determined to keep her brother and sister
safe. If the Chevez family used him for protection, what did that
say about them? She stared up at him defiantly. He bent closer,
his black eyes staring directly into her green ones. At once she
felt the mesmerizing pull. Hypnotic. Powerful. She recognized that
touch from the mental attack on her in the field. Alarmed she jerked
back, twisting away from him to focus on Ben's scuffed boots. This
man was like she was!
"I am Nicolas
De La Cruz." He said his name softly, his voice as mesmerizing
as his eyes. "I wish you to hear these men out, they have come
a long way to see you. The children are of their blood."
way he said blood sent a shiver running through her body. He didn't
raise his voice at all. He sounded perfectly calm and reasonable.
His voice was a powerful, hypnotic weapon and she recognized it
as such. If he used it in a court of law on the judge, could she
combat it? She didn't honestly know. Even she was somewhat susceptible.
Her head was pounding. She pressed a hand to her temples. He was
exerting subtle pressure to do as he bid her.
knew she wouldn't be able to resist the relentless invasion for
long. Her head felt as if it might shatter. Pride was one thing,
foolishness completely another. "I am going to have to ask
you gentlemen to leave. Unfortunately, this is a bad time for me,
I'm afraid I'm ill." Pressing a hand to her pounding head,
she turned to Ben. "Would you please escort them out of here
for me and I will try to schedule another meeting when I'm feeling
better? I'm sorry."
She jerked open
the door to her home and fled inside to the safety of her sanctuary.
Nicolas De La Cruz would be a powerful enemy. The pounding in her
head from fighting off his mental attack was making her physically
sick. She buried her face against her quilt and breathed deeply,
waiting until she felt the steady pressure slowly retreating. She
lay there a long time, terrified for her brother and sister, terrified