Book 4 The Lone Star Sisters Series
It had taken four months, calling in every favor ever owed her, a case of expensive Scotch and a date with a disgustingly slimy private investigator who had made the mistake of thinking “date” meant “sex”. A knee to the groin had cured him of that belief. In the end, Dana Birch had gotten her man.
Now, as she rode the elevator up to Garth Duncan’s penthouse condo, she smiled at the paperwork in her hand. Paperwork that demanded he come talk to the good people at the Dallas Police Department. Paperwork that said Garth was going to have a very bad day. She, on the other hand, couldn’t be happier.
“Rat bastard, weasel dog,” she murmured as she stepped off the elevator and headed to his front door. “You thought you were so smart. You thought you could do whatever you wanted and get away with it. You thought you could hurt my friends.”
If life were perfect, he would resist accompanying her and she could threaten him with her gun. Maybe even accidentally shoot him. If only he were the type of guy to cower in the face of authority, not to mention consequences. In her fantasies, he would tremble and beg. While it wasn’t as good as watching him bleed, it would be a close second. Unfortunately Garth was more the type to have a $1000 an hour attorney who lived to sue police departments. Not that his high-powered attorney would be much help today.
“You are so mine, Garth,” she said, then knocked.
In the minute or so it took him to answer, she savored the victory. She’d worked hard to nail Garth and it had been worth every long hour of digging, following up clues and waiting for a lucky break. It was his own fault, she thought cheerfully. He’d messed with people she cared about. No one did that without having to face her.
The front door opened. She smiled as she saw Garth was half-concealed behind the door. Maybe he was afraid, she thought with a flicker of contempt.
She held out the papers. “Good morning. We’re going to take a little ride downtown.”
“Are we?” he asked as he opened the door wider, so she could see all of him. “Am I allowed to get dressed first?”
An unexpected twist, Dana thought grimly as she took in the towel draped around his neck, covering his chest, and the one around his waist. He was dripping, obviously just out of the shower. His dark hair stood in little spikes, his expression was far more amused than worried.
“At least you know I’m not armed,” he said, his voice thick with humor.
“I wouldn’t be afraid if you were.”
“That’s because you don’t know what I’m capable of, Deputy Birch. So which is it? Are you prepared to parade me naked through the streets of Dallas or will I be putting on clothes?”
He sounded confident, as if he knew she wouldn’t take him in a towel, which was true. Damn him. She liked situations where she was in charge.
“You can get dressed,” she said grudgingly. “I’ll need to be in the room, though, to make sure you don’t try to escape.”
He actually gave her a little wink. “Of course you will. That’s as good an excuse as any.”
Irritation coursed through her. Instinctively she rested her right hand on her sidearm. “You wish,” she snapped. “Let me assure you I have no interested in seeing your bony backside. Or any other part of you.”
One corner of his mouth turned up. “You can watch, Dana. I don’t mind.”
He was playing with her, trying to mess with her mind. She focused on the reason she was here.
“Joke all you want,” she told him. “You’re going to jail.”
“If only wishing made it so.”
“You’re not getting out of this,” she snapped. “I have the proof I need.”
“No, you don’t.” His voice was low and deceptively soft. “If you had what you needed, you’d be arresting me, not bringing me in for questioning. Admit it, Dana. You’re not even close to charging me with anything. This is a fishing expedition.”
While she knew in her head that reacting with violence only weakened her position and proved he was right, she really, really wanted to hit him.
“I’m officially bored,” she said, dropping her arm to her side. “Let’s get this over with.”
“The part where you watch me naked?”
She stepped into his condo and rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Lucky, lucky me. Have you been featured ‘Arrogance Monthly’ yet?”
“I’ve been on the cover.”
He shut the door, then led the way through the large penthouse.
The main room was huge—she was guessing she could fit her apartment and five others just like it in the space. There were floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of most of Dallas. Not that she cared about that sort of thing.
She returned her attention to the man in front of her, then frowned as sunlight caught his back, illuminating the scars criss-crossing his skin.
A few of them were thin lines, but most were thick and raised, as if the skin had been cut over and over again. Her stomach clenched slightly, not that she allowed her expression to change.
She knew the basic facts about Garth Duncan. He was rich—scary rich, with dozens of companies and money flowing like water. He’d started in the oil business and while down in South America, no doubt raping and pillaging a pristine part of the world, he’d been captured and held prisoner by some angry locals. They’d kept him and a co-worker blind-folded in the jungle for a month, torturing them both daily.
Her gaze dropped to his long, muscled legs. She could see faint scars there, too, but these had come from a surgeon. Both of Garth’s legs had been broken during his captivity. His friend had carried him to safety.
If only Garth had died back then, Dana thought, but without a whole lot of energy. He wouldn’t be hurting her friends. But he hadn’t died. He’d flourished.
She followed a few steps behind as he entered a massive bedroom, then continued into a bathroom the size of a grocery store. That led into one of those fancy closets done in dark wood. All the clothes—men’s clothes—were perfectly organized by color. Shoes were lined up on racks.
She leaned against the doorway, never taking her eyes from him. “Any time.”
His dark gaze locked with hers. He seemed to be enjoying himself, which pissed her off. But once the investigation began, his attitude would change. She was bringing him in. For now, that was enough.
His smile returned. He pulled the towel off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. “If you don’t have to be anywhere in the next couple of hours, we could take advantage of my lack of clothes.”
“Hours? Oh, please. You’d be lucky to last six minutes. Quit playing, Garth. I have a full day ahead of me. Despite what you think, the world doesn’t revolve around you.”
“Yes, Deputy Birch.”
He dropped the towel at his waist.
She kept her eyes on his face. Not only didn’t he interest her in the least, but she was here in a professional capacity. She was proud of her job and what she did for the community. The good people of her town didn’t pay her to ogle the likes of Garth Duncan.
“No?” he asked, completely naked and holding out his arms at his side. “I’m yours for the taking.”
She faked a yawn.
He laughed. A rich, full laugh that spoke of amusement and perhaps grudging respect. For reasons she couldn’t explain, she found herself wanting to smile back at him. As if they were sharing a connection. As if they had something in common. As if they almost liked each other and might even be almost friends.
Dana turned and walked out of the closet. “Get dressed,” she called as she went.
“What if I have a gun in here?” he yelled after her.
“Then I get to shoot you.”
She crossed to the window in the bedroom and stared out at the view. But she only saw her friends’ faces. The three sisters Garth was trying to ruin. He hadn’t been content to attempt to destroy Lexi’s business or ruin Skye’s foundation. He’d actually tried to kill Izzy. What the hell was she thinking, smiling at him?
Garth was the enemy. He was evil. She was going to put him in prison for a very long time.
Five minutes later he walked into the bedroom. He wore a suit she was sure cost more than she made in a couple of months.
“Let’s go,” she said. “We’ll take my car.”
“I’m calling my lawyer on the way. She’ll meet us at the police station.”
“You can call Congress and God for all I care.” She pointed to the hallway. “Move.”
Instead of heading toward the living room, he moved toward her. For a split second Dana wondered if he had really had a gun in the closet. She reached for her sidearm.
“I didn’t try to kill her,” Garth said, staring into her eyes. “I had nothing to do with what happened to Izzy.”
A story she’d heard before. Not one she was willing to believe.
“I’m not the one you have to convince,” Dana told him.
“You’re a cop. Look at me, Dana. Tell me if you think I’m lying.” He stared into her eyes. “I didn’t try to kill Izzy. I didn’t cause the explosion. I never went after her at all.”
He was standing too close, she thought suddenly. She wasn’t worried about him coming after her, but she still felt uneasy. What was going on?
Hating to give up the power, she took a step back.
He was lying. He had to be lying. But the voice in her head that warned her when someone was trying to pull a fast one was oddly silent.
“I suppose you didn’t do anything at all,” she said, grabbing his arm and starting toward the hallway. “That you’re completely innocent.”
He only smiled.
He could have pulled away easily, but didn’t, which left her in the uncomfortable position of hanging on to him. She could feel the heat of his skin, the muscles, the smooth fabric of his fancy suit.
“Don’t mess with me,” she growled.
“I didn’t say a word.”
So why did she feel so uncomfortable?
Weakness wasn’t allowed, she reminded herself. Not with him, not with anyone.
“Please tell me they threatened you before I got there,” Mary Jo Sheffield said as she and Garth walked toward her car. “I’m itching to file a law suit.”
His attorney—a forty-something blonde who barely came to his shoulder—looked determined. She could scent blood with the efficiency of a shark, one of the reasons he’d hired her.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Garth told her as he waited for her to unlock her Mercedes. “They were polite and didn’t notify the press.”
Mary Jo wrinkled her nose. “Tell me someone hit you or threatened to hit you. Tell me they manhandled your cat when they brought you in. I need something to work with here.”
“I don’t have a cat,” Garth said.
“So few men do. Something I’ve never understood. Cats treat their owners with disdain and God knows your gender is constantly falling for women who treat them badly.” Mary Jo grinned. “Sorry. Ignore the rant. So you’re saying I can’t sue the Dallas Police Department?”
“I’m saying I can’t help you make your case.”
She unlocked her car. Garth slid into the passenger seat.
He’d spent nearly six hours being questioned. Mary Jo had been present for all but the first thirty minutes. He’d been provided with coffee, sandwiches and plenty of breaks. It had been easy...too easy.
Deputy Dana Birch would be horrified if she found out, he thought, enjoying the thought of her screaming at some unsuspecting sergeant for not stringing Garth up by his thumbs and beating him with a pipe. If she had her way, he would be tortured into confessing all and then burned at the stake. Of course if she knew him, she would know torture wouldn’t get him to talk. Fortunately for him, Dana wasn’t in charge of the Texas criminal justice system.
“What about the deputy?” Mary Jo asked. “Deputy Birch. Can I go after her? What was she doing, bringing you in, anyway? She’s not a member of the Dallas P.D. She’s from Titanville. There’s something going on there. Maybe I can get her suspended.”
“Leave Dana out of it,” he said as they left the parking garage.
Mary Jo glanced at him, eyebrows raised. “Dana? You know her?”
“Tell me you’re not sleeping with her, Garth. Tell me this isn’t personal.”
He chuckled. It was personal, but not in the way his attorney meant. “We’re not involved or even friends. She’s...”
Dana was his half-sisters’ friend. A deputy in the town where his mother lived. She was annoying, stubborn and determined to take him.
“She’s a friend of the family,” he said finally.
“I didn’t know you had family.”
“I’m more the type to have hatched?”
She sighed. “Fine. I won’t sue Deputy Birch. But tell her to stay out of my way. She’s trouble. I’ve had to deal with her in the past. I know the type. She’s honest and loyal. You know how annoying those two traits can be.”
He did. Once he’d believed in them. Lately though, he was more interested in results. An attitude that had cost him a lot but insured the win. And right now winning was all that mattered.
“I have the loan papers drawn up,” Mary Jo said. “Not to keep repeating myself, but you’re totally insane. Jed Titan is never going to accept the terms of the loan. Even if he does need the money, he won’t take it from you.”
“He won’t know it’s me.”
“He won’t have a choice. I’m continuing to buy up his company. The shareholders are getting nervous. They know I’m interested, but they don’t know my end game, which is how I want it. Jed has had a lot of bad press lately. The possible treason charges alone cost his shareholders a lot of money as the price dipped.”
Mary Jo glanced at him, then returned her attention to the road. “I find it interesting that the price of Jed’s stock dropped right when you wanted to buy it.”
“Funny how it all worked that way.”
“Tell me you haven’t broken the law.”
“I have in no way violated Securities and Exchange Commissions guidelines or rules.”
“Keep it in the gray area,” his attorney advised.
He’d stepped far beyond that, but not in a way that could be traced to him. Most of his attacks on the Titan family had been more subtle, but a few had been blatant. It kept things interesting.
“What happens now?” Mary Jo asked. “Or don’t I want to know?”
“I go to work and start my day.”
“It’s nearly three o’clock.”
“We’ll pretend I’m a Hollywood mogul, keeping late hours.”
She glanced at him again. “You’re not going to tell me what’s going on, are you?”
She didn’t need to know about his plan to destroy Jed Titan or the fact that Jed was his father. Eventually word would get out. He would be branded the Titan bastard, but by the time that happened, he would own Jed’s ass and everything else. He would have destroyed his father, taken possession of all the old man owned. He would have won.
She pulled up in front of his high-rise condo and parked. She looked at him. “You know you’re my favorite client.”
“I’m your only client.” Mary Jo worked for him exclusively. It had cost several million to get her away from her high-powered law firm, but she had been worth every penny.
“I don’t want to see you in jail,” she said. “You’re scaring me and you know I don’t scare easily.”
“There’s nothing to be scared of.”
She drew in a breath. “Dana’s tough. Tenacious, driven. She’s a lot like you. If she thinks she has something on you, she won’t stop until she gets you. She’s not someone to be taken lightly.”
“She sounds like a worthy adversary.”
“This isn’t a game, Garth,” Mary Jo told him.
He smiled and got out of her car. “Of course it is. Don’t worry—I always come out on top.”
Dana studied the blue fabric of her sofa, not that it interested her, but it seemed far easier to think about slip covers than deal with the woman sitting across from her. But as the silence ticked on, she was forced to look at her friend.
“It didn’t go well,” Dana admitted, hating to say the words, nearly as much as she hated failing. “I took him in and they questioned him for several hours.”
“And?” Izzy prompted anxiously.
“And they got nothing. He was friendly, cooperative and didn’t give up a thing.”
Izzy grinned. “Yes!”
Dana stared at her. “You know this is the man responsible for the explosion that nearly killed you.”
“He’s not,” Izzy insisted, leaning forward in her chair. “He didn’t do it, Dana. I know he didn’t do it.”
“How? Because he told you?”
“Partially. And because Nick believes him.”
Which was the problem, Dana thought, annoyed at the complication. Nick was one of the good guys. He also knew Garth better than anyone.
“I want more,” Dana said stubbornly.
“This is all I have. I trust him.”
“Wanting something doesn’t make it so.”
“Neither does denying it.”
“I’ll get him, I swear I will,” Dana grumbled. “I don’t know how, but I’ll come up with something.”
“Goals are important,” Izzy said soothingly, which annoyed Dana.
Izzy was the youngest of the Titan sisters. Lexi, the oldest, had gone through school with Dana, while Skye was a year older than Izzy. They had been raised in wealth and privilege, something Dana refused to hold against them. They were her family. They cared about her and she would do anything for them. Including taking down their half-brother.
About nine months earlier, Lexi had encountered some financial difficulties with her day spa. After borrowing money to expand her business, the two million dollar note had been called, giving her only twenty-one days to come up with the amount owed. A few weeks later, Skye’s charitable foundation had been accused of money laundering. Their father had faced trouble as well. His race horses had tested positive for doping. Through the spring and summer, the situation had only gotten worse, ending with an explosion on the oil platform where Izzy worked. She’d been temporarily blinded by the blast.
The person behind all of it? An angry Garth Duncan.
Dana didn’t care if he went after Jed—the old man had been especially cruel to Garth—but the sisters were off limits. Not that Garth saw it that way.
“I wish I could arrest him,” Dana said, knowing that putting handcuffs on Garth would make her one happy camper. “Or shoot him.”
“Hey.” Izzy glared at her. “You’re talking about my brother. I know he did a lot of bad stuff, but he swears he had nothing to do with the explosion and I believe him.”
It wasn’t Izzy’s fault, Dana told herself. Izzy had been raised isolated from the world. She didn’t believe people could be truly bad. Although Dana’s gut had kind of agreed with her, which only pissed her off more. She didn’t want shades of gray where Garth was concerned.
“You rich people do love to hang together,” Dana muttered.
“I’m not rich.”
“You will be as soon as your trust fund comes through.” She leaned back on the sofa and closed her eyes. “I’m surrounded by rich people. How did that happen?”
“You love us,” Izzy reminded her.
“True enough. You and your sisters are my best friends, which only goes to show what an incredibly understanding person I am.”
Izzy laughed. “So was Garth surprised to see you?”
Dana opened her eyes and straightened. Better to deal with Izzy than remember Garth naked and dripping. “He handled the situation well.”
Better than well. He’d been completely comfortable, not the least bit intimidated and almost...well, nearly...charming.
What was up with that? She didn’t find men charming, certainly not men like him. He was an annoying, egotistical, determined bastard who had hurt the people she loved. Not charming. Never charming.
There was a knock at her front door.
She jumped up, grateful for the interruption, and crossed the small room. After flipping both locks, she let Lexi and Skye into her condo.
“It’s actually cold out there,” Skye said as she slipped off a light jacket. “I’m so ready for winter.”
Dana grinned. “It’s sixty-five.”
Lexi rested her hand on her pregnancy bump. “Speaking as someone who is starting to swell professionally, I’m all for cooler weather.” She grabbed Dana’s arm. “Did you get him? Is he in jail, becoming Bubba’s love slave?”
“No. He was questioned and released.”
“It’s fine,” Izzy said, standing and hugging both her sisters. “I promise. Look, you need to sit down. There’s something I have to tell you.”
Both Skye and Lexi turned to Dana. “What has she done now?” Skye asked.
Dana held up her hands. “This is not my party. I’m simply a neutral location. But you might want to take a deep breath. It’s going to be quite the ride.”
Lexi and Skye exchanged wary looks before sitting on the sofa. Dana stayed by the door, thinking Izzy’s announcement was going to cause an amazing explosion. She wanted to be able to see everything.
Izzy shook her head, then fluffed her curly hair. “I have an announcement,” she began.
“We got that,” Lexi said, keeping a protective hand on her stomach. “What is it?”
“It’s about Garth. As you know, I talked to him right before Nick and I got back together. He took Nick’s side and responsibility for what had happened.”
“As he should have,” Skye snapped. “The man goes out of his way to destroy everything you two had worked toward. It just makes me so mad.”
“Excuse me.” Izzy shook her head. “I was talking. While I was with Garth, I realized that he’s our brother. Okay, I’ve known that for a while, now, but they were just words. They didn’t mean anything.”
Lexi look at Dana. “What is she talking about?”
“I am staying neutral here.”
Lexi turned back to Izzy. “What’s your point?”
Izzy smiled. “We’ve been trying to defeat him for months and it hasn’t worked. The strategy is totally flawed. We shouldn’t be fighting him. We should be protecting him from himself. That’s what I wanted to tell you both. Garth is our brother and it’s our job to bring him into the family. We’re going to save him.”
Skye and Lexi stared at their sister. They were both wide-eyed with shock. Their mouths fell open.
Dana folded her arms across her chest and shook her head. “Welcome to the show.”
The Lone Star Sisters, Book No. 4
Dana Birch vowed never to put herself at the mercy of a powerful man. She became a deputy so that she could take care of herself, and protect those she loved. Especially her best friends, the Titan sisters.
Twenty years ago, Garth Duncan swore revenge on Jed Titan for abandoning Garth and his mother. Now he's back to fulfill that promise, even if Jed s daughters get caught in the crosshairs. All that stands between him and his goal is Dana, her gun, and a growing passion that can t be denied...
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SUSAN MALLERY IS A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF CONTEMPORARY WOMEN'S FICTION AND ROMANCE NOVELS.