Texas Bad Boy(8)

By: Jean Brashear

She could see a war going on behind his eyes. “It’s only a picnic. It’s for the children.”

Her father’s frown deepened and he started to speak but then shook his head. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

“Is there something I should know?”

Her father glanced away for a second, then returned his gaze to hers. Finally, he shook his head slowly, exhaling in a gust. “No. There’s nothing. Just be careful, Princess. Be very careful.”

She smiled then, to ease his mind. “A simple picnic, Daddy. I can handle it.”

She prayed she was right.

Dev leaned against the window frame and stared into the dark night outside his hotel room, unseeing. He uttered a few choice, ripe curses, raked his fingers through his hair, and shoved away from the wall to return to the desk where his laptop accused him.

The cursor blinked patiently, waiting for Dev to organize his thoughts. But all he could see was a pair of silvery eyes gone icy and imperious. Was there even a trace of soft gray velvet left inside that perfectly-groomed exterior?

Just a job. It’s just a job. You’re not a kid anymore, and neither is she.

Yanking his tuxedo shirt out of the waistband of his slacks, Dev worked at the studs, stripping the garment off his body and tossing it on the bed. Then he sat down again and used the discipline that had marked his life for years to focus on the screen before him. He knew the facts of the case; he could relate them to Lacey, carefully and with no emotion at all. That would be the best way. Just the facts, ma’am.

If only it were that simple.

Right now, he’d like to talk to Maddie. He could use a reminder of all the reasons why this case had nothing to do with him. But it was two-thirty in the morning, and the Gallaghers rose with the chickens.

And all he’d told Mitch and Boone and Maddie was that he knew who Lacey was, not all that had gone on between them years ago. If he thought the words on the screen made a long, complicated story, try adding in his own little tangent.

Okay. How would he start? Lacey, there’s this tiny town called Morning Star, where a man named Dalton Wheeler took the rap for a murder he didn’t commit—

Dev shook his head. Okay— There was a girl named Jenny who loved Dalton very much, but he vanished and she found out she was pregnant and she went away to have you and had to give you up.

Damn. It was all true, as far as it went. But how to explain to her about all the love, the heartache?

Would Lacey understand that in those days, Jenny had few options? She went away, had the baby, and the doctor took care of the adoption. Jenny never knew about the very wealthy man and his wife who staged an elaborate deception because bloodlines were so important. Margaret DeMille would never admit that the child she ostensibly went to the pure country air of Switzerland to have was not her own. That the baby girl was tiny and delicate only helped in disguising her true age when they returned to Houston.

So they told no one, not even Lacey. She slept tonight, wrapped up in her certainty of who she was, where she belonged.

And he prowled a hotel room and wished for sleep. He should have stayed at his brother’s. At least Connor would distract him from thoughts he didn’t welcome.

They’re good people, Lacey. Give them a chance. Don’t get on your high horse and break their hearts.

Hell, maybe Maddie was the right person to tell her.

No. This was his job. He always did his job. Even if he trusted the Ice Princess not to hurt Maddie—which he didn’t—he had never skipped out on a responsibility to a client, and he wouldn’t start now.

Dev cursed softly. He wasn’t going to sleep tonight. Dallas was only three hours away, and he had other cases, other commitments. With quick, decisive steps, he changed into jeans and packed up. Maybe in his own bed, he could stop the thoughts whirling long enough to get a little shuteye. Then he’d make a game plan.

In his ’63 T-bird gas guzzler that rode like a living room sofa, Dev took a detour on his way out of town. He drove down River Oaks Boulevard with its grand homes shrouded in trees. Lacey didn’t live at the estate anymore—she had her own condo not far away—but he wanted to take a look at his enemy’s lair.

There it was, down the long circular drive. Two-story Colonial with mahogany front doors, the wide front porch opening onto manicured grounds. Huge pines and magnolias scattered over emerald lawn, thickening stands of them at the boundaries. In the spring the azaleas would scatter brilliant bursts of color. From the street, the whole place looked like a dream house.

Appearances could be so deceptive. Somewhere, nestled way back under the trees, was the gazebo where dreams had died.

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