Legend. Mystery. And love?
Eager to set up her archeological dig site on her cousins’ ranch, Ellison Holliday is completely stunned to find that the always empty McCann Guest House isn’t actually empty. She’s even more unprepared for the muscular Adonis who greeted her. Or his gun. Or his nakedness.
FBI Agent Waller Beckindorf has taken solo residence on the McCann Ranch during his investigation into Jackson McCann’s disappearance. But all of his training does nothing to prepare him for the spitfire that blows into his life in the form of Ellison Holliday. More than just a bit like her cousin Case—Jackson’s baby sister who keeps trying to sneak into the still quarantined crime scene—Ellison is beauty, brains, and in desperate need of discipline. His discipline.
1870, South Central Texas
A single branch groaned under the weight of the body swinging from the hemp rope. The crowd of people gathered at the stagecoach stop shuffled back into the lonely structure in the middle of nowhere, numb to the execution of such a young woman in a time of poverty and national unrest.
As the sun fell behind the horizon of flat, sandy plains and low brush, the unnamed woman was laid to rest next to the fresh grave of her husband. The man she was accused of murdering. A man whose head was never recovered.
“I thought I told you no one can go in there.”
“It’s my house!”
The tall, broad shouldered man in the gray suit stood on the porch of the white, plantation style home with one very angry, very petite brunette—the owner of the previously mentioned home.
“It’s a crime scene, Buttercup,” he said, his voice only rising a little. He was tired and achy after a long drive in from Dallas.
“Don’t patronize me, G-man,” Case McCann replied, squaring up her stance to the much larger gentleman. “It’s been like, 2 months. You haven’t found out anything about my brother, Jackson. All of my stuff is in there. I need my stuff. I need my house!”
“Again, Miss McCann, I’m a federal crime scene investigator. I have to pick through every fiber in that house to find clues. Then I have to send things off to the lab at Dallas FBI Headquarters to be analyzed. That takes time.”
“What happened to the short fat one?” she grumbled, folding her arms and looking up at the agent with a frown. That first guy, Agent Longfellow, was slow and she could get around him, usually only getting caught after rummaging in her closet for a pair of shoes and jeans.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m here and I don’t want to catch you on this porch again. No crossing the yellow tape! You hear?” He used his forceful government agent voice which usually scared people. He wasn’t so sure this tenacious little girl frightened easily.
“So are you living here or something?” she asked, leaning in and reading the name inside the leather wallet he’d flipped open when he’d caught her unlocking the kitchen door. “Agent Beckindorf?”
“You don’t need to worry about that. Now scram,” he sighed, shoving his wallet and shield back into his pocket and wiping the sweat off his brow. He needed to get out of that suit and into more appropriate South Texas-in-August clothes.
Her demeanor quickly changed as she fisted her hands at her sides and her cheeks flushed with anger.
“Are you sleeping in my parents’ bed?” she quietly asked, not breaking eye contact.
Exhaling and shaking his head, he relented a little. The kid had a pretty sad story. and couldn’t seem to be able to catch a break. He didn’t need to make things worse for her.
“Look, Miss McCann…”
“Call me Case,” she evenly said, still staring up at him.
“Case,” he nodded, pulling the sides of his suit jacket back as he rested his hands low on his hips. “I couldn’t stay in this house even if I wanted to. It’s a crime scene. I’m staying over in that place down the dirt road.”
She glanced over her shoulder down the winding white caliche road at the white 2-story clapboard house.
“The guest house?” she asked, frowning.
“That 4000 square foot mansion is your guest house?” he asked, raising his brow. He was about to counter with a remark when she suddenly slapped his arm.
“But! It was covered in yellow tape! I didn’t know we could stay there! I want to stay there! You move out!” she ordered, pointing her finger at him.
“All of my equipment and files are in there. And my director signed off on it. So… no,” he replied, becoming extremely amused by her rising temper.
“Listen here, Agent Breckindork…”
“Call me Waller,” he grinned, liking her policy of candor and persistence. In any other circumstance, they may have been friends.
“Waller,” she said between her teeth, trying to find a place of serenity as the anger whirled around her. “You have until sundown to grab your gear and clear out of my house, and if you do not comply, I’m sorry but I will be forced to take legal action!”
“According to your file you’ve already got a pretty little place to live in University Park right next to SMU,” he replied, watching the emotion wipe right off of her face, replaced, finally, by a look of fear.
“You… you have a file on me?”
“We always rule out the family as suspects first, Cupcake. Don’t look so worried.”
She straightened her shoulders again and tried to regain a foothold in her argument. “So. I’m not a suspect. Now you have to move or I will get the authorities involved.”
“I am the authorities,” he quietly said, taking a step towards her to see if she’d back down. Her mouth dropped open a little and a small line appeared between her eyebrows, but she otherwise was not going to concede very easily. Luckily, he didn’t have to see how far things would go before he had to arrest her for assaulting a federal agent. Backup arrived.
Case stepped back and looked behind her, just in time to see Hall rounding the corner from the front of the house, all hot in his worn jeans and button down, hair a mess from driving with the windows down. He’d always be able to take her breath away. She frowned at the familiarity in the greeting, though.
“Wait, you two don’t know each other… do you?”
“Harvard,” they both replied, shaking hands.
“So you’re assigned to Jackson McCann’s case?” Hall asked, drawing his little girlfriend to him and kissing the top of her head.
“Yeah,” Waller nodded, noting how they were acting. “So you’re dating my lead suspect?”
“What?” Case squealed, stepping towards him as he held his hands up and joined Hall in a good laugh at her expense.
“Kidding,” he grinned, shaking his head. “Your little lady and I were just discussing the finer points of eminent domain.”
“You’ll get to move back in soon enough, Case,” Hall smiled indulgently at her, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Are you that eager to move out of my place?”
“No. No, of course not,” she sighed, looking down at the toe of her dirty white tennis shoe. “I just…I want my stuff. I want my home. I still feel like a guest in your house, Hall.”
“Anything new on the hunt for Jackson?” Hall asked, wrapping his arms around Case and pulling her into him.
“Nothing I can disclose,” Waller shrugged, looking apologetic. “And, I’m sorry that y’all can’t move back in, but you just can’t. If we retrieve Jackson and take the suspects to court, we don’t want the defense to accuse anyone of tampering with evidence. So no entering the house. Not yet. And no more sneaking in either, Buttercup. I mean it.”
“You tried to sneak in again?” Hall asked, holding her shoulder. It was the third time in a month. He knew she had been taking way too long to pick up milk.
“Caught her right here about half an hour ago,” Waller grinned, watching her cheeks flush as his friend gave her an annoyed look. She had spunk and she was cute. Two things his good friend deserved in his life. There had just been too many sad stories in this small town.
“He’s living in the guest house. I want to live there!” Case pouted, pointing at the house down the road.
“He needs it so they can find your brother,” Hall said, taking a step down off of the porch. “Now come on. It’s getting late.”
“No!” she replied, backing up.
“I’ll see you, Hall,” Waller smiled, putting his Ray Bans on and walking down the road towards the McCann guest mansion.
“Later, Beck. Now come on, Baby Girl, you’re in enough trouble as it is.”
Waller shook his head and laughed as he strolled away, pausing only briefly as the argument escalated. He glanced back.
“Get in the car!”
“I’m getting in that house! And besides, I brought the 4 wheeler so I am not getting into your car!”
“You’re asking, no, begging me to spank you, Case.”
“God, shut up! He’ll hear you!”
“And he’ll probably hear this,” Hall stated, holding her arm and swinging his hand around to her backside. The smack echoed, as did her startled squeal, and Waller had to force himself to turn and keep walking. A spanking? So that was how a guy like Hall kept a girl like Case around.
The arguing, spanking, and squealing continued as he walked away. The whole exchange had been fascinating. Appealing. Even stimulating. He washed away the day in a hot shower, but kept their little fight on deck so he could relieve his aching erection. He was a little surprised at his arousal since no woman had piqued his interest in the past year at the Bureau, but he realized it wasn’t the girl, really. It was the argument. The action. The sound. He came hard as the water washed over him. His relief wasn’t enough to leave him satisfied, though, so he was about to let the shower run a little longer when he heard the front door.
He quickly turned off the water, grabbed his Glock, and carefully stepped out of the downstairs master suite to the living area.