Pride of a Hunter

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The Seekers, Book 4
Harlequin Intrigue #872
September 2005

TWO SCARRED HEARTS

As far as former CIA sniper Lucinda Taylor was concerned, her heart died the day she pulled the trigger that left her a widow and a single mom. Then fellow agent Dominic Skyralov came to town to hunt down a dangerous scam artist, and Luci was shocked to feel an exhilaration she hadn’t felt in seven years…a feeling that made her think she and this brave, bull of a man might be more than old friends. But Dom had his own secrets about that tragic day. And now, with her family in growing danger, Luci had to decide if Dom was her last, best shot at redemption and love—or just a terrible reminder of everything she’d lost.

EXCERPT

“Hi, Luce. Can I come in?”

The sight of Dominic Skyralov, big as life and broad as a bull, knocked Luci back two steps and seven years. His blond hair had darkened to caramel. But otherwise, nothing much had changed about the smooth-talking cowboy. His blue eyes still matched the well-washed denim of his skin-hugging jeans, still could read right through her, still made her want to confess her deepest sins. He’d been her best friend for four years. Then everything had changed. Now the sight of him called back her darkest memories and the nauseating disorientation that came with them.

“No.” She hung on to the brass doorknob as if it could save her from the flood of pain that rushed through her. “You can’t come in.”

“I need to talk to you.”

“I’m sorry.” She shook her head, trying desperately to break apart the image of blood, of horror, of Cole dead on the floor, of red staining the dirty boards of that bleak North Texas shack. “I’m on my way out.”

Dom nodded. A good-old-boy gesture that was as part of him as his inbred politeness. “I’ll come back, then. When would be good for you?”

   Never. Her ears rang. Her vision narrowed and blackened. Oh, God, no. Him coming back would make this even worse. She’d have all the time in between to relive her worst nightmare over and over again. Cole falling, bleeding, dying. Closing her eyes, she swallowed hard. “Say whatever you have to say and leave. I’m in a hurry.”

“It’s a nice place you’ve got here.”

“No, Dom, don’t.” Her voice strained between clenched teeth. “I know how you work. Put your subject at ease, then slip in the punch. Just get to the point, okay?” She couldn’t take his smooth negotiator’s voice, that slow Texas drawl, chipping away at her calm until he found her soft spot and bored in for the kill.

“There’s a con man in town. He marries divorcées and bleeds them dry. I need you to help me gather evidence and provide me with some cover.”

 Why don’t you just take a knife and twist it in my guts? “You are not bringing trouble here. Do you hear? You are not bringing trouble to this family. You are not bringing trouble to this community.”

“He’s engaged to your sister.”

The soft punch of his words knocked her breathless. “Now I know you’re lying. My sister isn’t seeing anyone.”

Then Luci remembered Jill’s bubblier-than-usual voice this morning as she’d issued a dinner invitation for Saturday and added she had a surprise. Luci had assumed Jill had scraped up another blind date to force on her. Jilly, what have you done? “I’m leaving now. And when I get back, I don’t want to see you or your truck in my driveway. Is that understood?”

Another nod. But he wasn’t moving. He wasn’t leaving. His big body became an iceberg she feared wouldn’t melt away until he’d done what he’d set out to accomplish. “Thing is, Luce, whether you want it or not, trouble’s here and it’s not me. The last woman this con man married died. You don’t want that for Jill. As much as you two rub each other raw, you love her.”

He shrugged as if he weren’t ripping the world she’d worked so hard to create to shreds, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. But he did. Dom had always cared too much. That’s why she couldn’t bear the sight of him. “You want to see trouble go away, Luce. You want your neat little life to go on. Then you need my help.”

Shaking her head, she snorted. That was just like him, turning this whole thing on her, making it her fault, her failure. She didn’t need this. She was already serving her time in hell. She was doing her penance. She deserved her small corner of peace and security. And even if she didn’t, Brendan did.

“I’ll take care of Jill myself. Goodbye.” Heart pounding, tears clawing up her throat, she slammed the door in Dom’s face and ran out the back door to the minivan where her son waited unaware that a monster worse than any video game’s had just invaded their bright little world.