Anna Delaney is thrilled to leave Boston for Austin, Texas, when her small tech company is bought out by a conglomerate. Born into a family of over-protective brothers, this is her chance at true independence—and a name-making professional breakthrough.
Even when gorgeous billionaire rancher King Sanders forms a one-man welcoming committee, Anna insists that she doesn’t need a tour guide—or another bodyguard. But after she narrowly escapes a kidnapping attempt, she can’t say no to King spiriting her away to someplace safe…and very private.
Someone wants the valuable software Anna’s developing, and King is determined to keep her safe until the culprit is caught. The hunky cowboy lights her up brighter than the Lone Star sky at night, but neither one of them is prepared for just how wild Texas can get—and just how hard they’re willing to fight to stay together…
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Someone was watching her. She could feel it. Had since she'd moved to Texas, the so-called land of opportunity. Paranoid much? Maybe, maybe not. She knew what she'd created was valuable. And today she'd finished it. Almost. Just a few more tweaks and ... Anyway, it had seemed like a cause for celebration. So she'd come out of her cave to finally explore her new city.
Anna Delaney scanned the vast room around her but couldn't concentrate. Black dots danced in front of her eyes. Her favorite pink sweater had become her enemy, itchy and so hot she wanted to rip it off and let the world see her in the last clean bra in her underwear drawer. Sweat gathered between her breasts and under her arms. Hello, Austin, didn't you get the memo? It's winter!
Swaying where she stood, she dragged in a breath and almost passed out. Would anyone care if she just dropped to the cool marble floor? She'd lay her burning cheeks against it and ... Someone grabbed her arm.
"Move aside, make way. Sorry, ma'am." The deep voice had that Texas twang she was trying to get used to. His grip was firm as he dragged her through the crowd.
What the hell? Anna opened her mouth to scream for help, but nothing came out. Her efforts to jerk loose were feeble. Through a blur she saw a tall man in a suit, boots, and a cowboy hat. Where was he taking her? Why didn't anyone stop him? He shoved her onto a hard bench, his hand firm on the back of her head as he pushed it between her knees.
"Breathe." He pulled at her backpack and Anna finally came alive.
"Get your freaking hands off of that!" She sat up and slapped at him, not about to lose the only thing that mattered to her.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." He let go and held out his hands in surrender. "I wasn't trying to steal your stuff, lady. Just trying to keep you from fainting."
Too late. She blinked, determined not to give in as the room dipped and swayed. When her vision finally cleared, she looked him over. For a kidnapper, the man wasn't exactly trying to blend into the tourist crowd. This big guy with broad shoulders would turn heads anywhere. He wore boots of some kind of exotic skin and flashed a gold watch worth more than her fancy computer system. His suit alone cost thousands. Her brother Chance had taught her to recognize expensive threads.
All right, so she believed him — he didn't need to steal her stuff. She shrugged off her backpack and dropped it into her lap. When the heat got to her again, she swallowed nausea and leaned over, resting her forehead on the leather pack.
"You all right?" He hadn't left, just sat beside her on the stone bench.
"No." She took shallow breaths. She hated Texas. Hated the unpredictable weather and interfering strangers who wouldn't let her die in peace.
"Stay here, sugar." He patted her shoulder before he took off.
No problem. Anna was pretty sure if she stood she'd fall flat on her face. She was so damned stupid. This morning she could have sworn those looked like snow clouds when she'd left her apartment. It was January, cold outside. This sweater, warm and cozy, had been perfect back home. Here in Austin? It was about as useful as ice skates in hell. From now on she was checking the weather app on her phone before she went anywhere. Hindsight. Always twenty/twenty.
She didn't know how long she'd sat there, leaning on that backpack, when she sensed he had returned.
"Feeling any better?"
Anna put a shaky hand to her face. "Um, sure. Thanks. I'll be fine." Big lie.
"No wonder you were about to hit the floor. You're overheated." He slapped a bottle of cold water in her hand. "Drink first."
"What?" Anna swayed right into his red striped tie and hard chest. Bossy men. She'd sworn off them. But cold water ... He obviously wasn't letting go so she sipped until she steadied. She'd needed that. He took back the bottle and dropped something else into her hand before she had time to say another word. He pulled her to her feet and looked into her eyes. She tried to sit again before she fell over.
"Oh, no you don't. I got you something." He kept his hand under her elbow. "Ladies' room is right across here. Take off that wool sweater and put this on, sugar. T-shirt. You're a little thing and I had to guess at the size, but I think it'll fit." He smiled down at her with straight white teeth, obviously pleased as punch that he'd come to her aid.
"I, uh, you didn't have to ..." Anna studied the neon-green tee and tried to look grateful. Did he really think that would fit her? Maybe when she'd been twelve. But short sleeves and cotton! The very idea of shedding her wool had her almost dropping her pack in her eagerness to clutch the ugly shirt to her breasts. "Thanks!" She shoved away from him and wobbled.
"Easy now. Just a few steps and you can go in a stall and change. You'll feel much better when you're dressed right for this crazy weather." He kept his hand under her elbow, supporting her as he guided her across the floor toward the restroom.
"It is crazy! And wrong. Where did winter go?" Anna heard the whine in her voice but couldn't stop herself.
He just laughed and kept steering her across the vast lobby. "Don't worry, it'll be back. There's probably a blue norther already headed this way." He stopped in front of the door to the women's restroom. "Can you make it from here?" He looked around. "Ma'am? Would you mind giving her a hand? My friend here is suffering from the heat."
Anna stared up at him when he pulled off his hat. Dark eyes, black hair, and deeply tanned, this man was a stranger, not a friend. Where she came from you had to earn that label. Not that she would mind knowing this guy, who would have looked at home in the pages of GQ, the cowboy edition. The woman striding toward them in high heels, a red power suit, and carrying a leather briefcase stopped in her tracks. She sized him up with a smile and nodded. Clearly she'd be happy to do whatever this hunk wanted.
"Of course." She took Anna's arm. "What on earth were you thinking, girl? Wool? In this heat? You must not be from around here." She threw a flirtatious look over her shoulder. "How could you let her leave the house like this?"
He shrugged and winked, silently saying that he'd never understand women.
"Well, we'll get her squared away. Where are you from, honey?" The woman pulled Anna inside when the Good Samaritan pushed open the bathroom door.
"Boston," Anna murmured as the door swished closed behind them. Why did everyone around here think they could call you "sugar" and "honey" like they knew you?
"No wonder! Is this your first Texas winter?" She ran water over a paper towel and handed it to Anna, who fell into the first stall and sat on the toilet seat. She hoped like hell it wasn't wet. "Press this against your face before you try to change tops. Your face is as red as a beet."
Anna nodded, having nothing else to say. She just used the towel to wipe her face and leaned over again. Still had her backpack, that was something. After a few moments to cool down while the other woman obviously used the facilities, she sat up and pulled off her sweater. Sitting there in just her bra was a pure pleasure.
"Feeling better?" The woman handed her the green tee. "I tore off the price tag. Men! He bought a size small. Guess he wanted you to show off your figure." She glanced at Anna's bra. "You sure will with that flimsy thing under it."
"Yeah. This one has seen better days. Laundry isn't on the top of my to-do list." Okay, so she was being defensive. The stretched-out bra was a decade old but comfortable. Anna jerked the shirt over her head and struggled to get it down over her boobs. Of course it clung. A sudden whoosh of cool air came as a welcome relief but made her nipples put on a show. How could she go out there now? The man was probably waiting for her and she should offer to pay for the shirt. She held her pack against her chest and stood.
"Now they turn on the air conditioning. Guess they have to hit a magic number or something on the thermostat. I swear it's over eighty outside. Even for Austin I bet it's a record." The woman freshened her lipstick in front of the mirror. "Blew your mind, didn't it? Being from Boston and all. January probably means snow up there."
"Yes!" Anna thought about dumping her sweater in the trash but figured she'd get to visit home again someday so it went into her backpack. Home. Snow, family ... Oh, she'd better quit thinking about it or she'd burst into tears. She'd committed to Texas for the time being and she had to learn to love it, crazy weather and all. "Thanks for helping me."
The woman closed her purse with a snap. "That guy your boyfriend?"
"I don't know him. He caught me as I was about to fall over when the heat got to be too much. Nice guy." Anna took her own look in the mirror above the sink and winced. "I'm sure he'll take off as soon as he sees me come out of here, if he hasn't already."
"A gentleman, to take care of a stranger like that. Handsome too. No wedding ring, though that's no guarantee he's not married. I know that from experience." She turned and stuck out her hand. "Pamela Allred, State Railroad Commission." She pulled a card out of her jacket pocket. "Welcome to Texas, Boston."
"Anna Delaney, Zenon Technologies." Anna shook her hand, then leaned against the sink. "Seriously, I appreciate your help, Pamela. You like the guy out there, go for it. I'll thank him and be on my way."
"Zenon's a big deal computer firm. I heard they brought some Yankees down here when they bought a new company." Pamela smiled. "You must be a techie."
"Yes, I'm a computer geek and proud of it. Several of us came with the buyout." Anna washed and dried her hands and face. "It's an adventure. That's what I hoped for, anyway."
"I'm sure it will be. You feeling all right now?" Pamela looked her over. "You can't hide in here forever, you know."
"Better, thanks. I'm going. In a minute." Anna dug in her pack and produced her own card. She didn't have many friends in Austin and could always use another one. Pamela seemed nice. "Here. If you're ever out by Zenon and want to do lunch, give me a call. I don't know a thing about railroads, but maybe we could find something to talk about."
Pamela laughed. "The Railroad Commission deals with the state's natural resources and the environment — energy, oil and gas, things like that. It has an old timey name we're stuck with, but that's Texas for you." Pamela studied Anna's card. "My job lately has been all about bringing our old system of keeping track of oil well production into the high-tech world. I'm one of the few women they've brought on board. Lunch sounds good, I'll call you. We may have more to discuss than you realize. Now, you hide for another minute or two and catch your breath while I make a run at the handsome stranger. You okay with that?"
"Sure. Go for it. I'm more into the nerd type. This guy's way too big, and with those boots?" Anna laughed. "I'm pretty sure we have about as much in common as filet mignon and hamburger." She shook her head. "Obviously I'm hungry. Must be lunchtime. Anyway, we just happened to be in the capitol on the same day at the same time." Pamela was blond and pretty, with a perfect figure and a competent air about her. The cowboy would probably put her number in his phone in a heartbeat.
Pamela raised an eyebrow. "I don't know. He did buy you that tiny tee. That says interested to me. He could be into dark hair and blue eyes; a lot of men are." She gave her hair a final fluff. "They say blondes have more fun but I certainly have my dry spells. Can't hurt to take a shot though. Did you smell him? Positively yummy." She sighed. "Anyway, give me five minutes, then come on out. You have lipstick and a comb in there?" She gestured to the backpack Anna had set on the counter next to the sink.
"Never leave home without it. My mother's rule. I carry the pack instead of a purse but all the necessities are in there." Though it would take more than lipstick to make her look presentable. Her hair, always unruly, had gone wild thanks to wet paper towels and sweat.
"My mama too. Guess Yankee mamas aren't so different from Texas mamas." Pamela grinned. "So use 'em, Anna. At least one of us should get a date out of you having a fainting fit at the feet of one good-looking guy." She let loose the top button on the white silk blouse under her suit jacket so a little cleavage showed, then picked up her briefcase before she eased out the door.
Anna studied herself in the mirror, then rooted around for lipstick and a brush. Pamela was right. Self-respect was something her mother had drilled into her from an early age. And then there was that man's delicious smell. She might have been a little woozy but she'd have to have been unconscious to miss that subtle hint of something he wore that made her want to see him without all those layers, lose the tie and ...
So far, her life in Texas had been spent mostly chained to her computer. Once she'd arrived in Austin, it had been drilled into her that it was her program that had made Zenon's owner spend an obscene amount of money to buy her old company. She'd been under pressure ever since. But coming to Texas had given her an opportunity for a change, an adventure, like she'd told Pamela. She'd worked hard since she got here. Zenon had certainly got its money's worth. So it was time for her to look up from her keyboard and give Texas a chance.
Maybe almost fainting in the rotunda of the Texas capitol building was a sign. Okay, so she might not see a future with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Too Cute for His Boots, but she wasn't about to go out there looking like she'd been dragged across that beautiful marble lobby face first either.
* * *
King waited outside the ladies' room and wondered what the hell he was thinking. His sister would laugh her ass off at the idea that he'd swooped in and helped a stranger like that. Of course, much as he loved Karen, he knew she'd have stepped over the body and kept walking. Not his style. But, damn it, this had made him late for a meeting. He hated to be late for anything. When his phone chimed he knew exactly what the text was about. Yeah, State Senator Derek Cutler was pissed. There'd be no arm twisting about that agricultural bill over steaks and drinks today. He'd have to let the man cool off before he tried to smooth his ruffled feathers. Now he might as well see how the little gal he'd helped was coming along.
He knew the signs when a woman was about to faint. His twin sister had gone through a spell of fainting fits when they'd been growing up. White face, flop sweat, and boom! she'd hit the deck. This woman had been steps away from him as he was striding across the vast lobby. She'd wobbled and damn if he was going to let her fall and maybe split her head open on that hard marble floor. When the bathroom door swung open, he stuck his phone in his pocket and smiled. It was the little blonde.
"She'll be out in a minute. She's fine. Just taking a breather. Believe it or not, she's from Boston. Our winter warm spell was a shock to her system. She'd obviously dressed for a Yankee winter." She laughed and pressed a card into his hand. "Pamela Allred, Railroad Commission."
"Hey, thanks for your help, Ms. Allred." King took the card and held out his hand. "King Sanders. I have some dealings with your commission from time to time because of the oil wells on my ranch southwest of San Antonio. Maybe I'll see you in the office while I'm in town."
"Oh, I hope so." She smiled and shook his hand, holding on when he would have let go. "And it's Pam." She frowned when her phone chimed. "Well, shoot. Duty calls. Nice to meet you. And that was sweet what you did for Anna, buying her a T-shirt and all. She said you're strangers."
"Right. I didn't even know her name until you told me just now." King tucked Pam's card into his pocket. "I'll be seeing you, Pam." He watched her stride off but his mind was on the woman still behind the restroom door. Anna from Boston. She was different. Interesting. Pam was cute but so much like a dozen other women he knew he could imagine a factory, churning them out. They worked for the state, or maybe they didn't work at all but lived off Daddy's money. Nothing at all wrong with them. Nothing quite right about them either. Of course, he'd had his heart bruised recently, so maybe he was just being an asshole about women. Was entirely possible.
The door to the restroom creaked open and Anna peered out. Was she hoping he'd be gone? Probably embarrassed since she'd almost fallen in front of him. He strode forward, determined to make her feel at ease.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Texas Lightning"
Copyright © 2018 Gerry Bartlett.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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