Santa Fe, New Mexico
“You’re sure about the
boy—and his mother?” Jordan’s grip tightened on the phone.
“You’re the one who
has to be sure, Mr. Cooper.” The private investigator’s voice was
as flat as a digitized recording. “The packet’s on its way to your
ranch by courier – birth certificate, hospital records, the mother’s
address and several discreet photos. Once you’ve seen everything,
you can draw your own conclusion. If you need follow-up—”
“No, there’ll be
nothing else. I’ll transfer your fee as soon as I’ve seen the
Jordan ended the
call with a click. The packet would be arriving from Albuquerque
within the hour. If his hunch was right, it would hold enough legal
and emotional dynamite to blast his well-ordered world into chaos.
Stepping away from the
desk, he stared out the window of his study, which commanded a vista
of open ranchland stretching toward the horizon. In the distance,
the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, rich with autumn color, glimmered in
the November sunlight. This was Cooper land, as it had been for
more than a hundred years. When his mother died it would pass to
him as the sole surviving heir of the family trust. But if the
report confirmed what he suspected...
Jordan turned away
from the window, leaving the thought unfinished. It wasn’t too late
to back off, he reminded himself. When the packet arrived, he could
burn the damned thing unopened, or shove it through the shredder.
But he’d only be destroying paper. Nothing could erase the memory
of Angelina Montoya or change the reality of what she’d done to his
Jordan’s eyes shifted
toward the far wall, bare except for a group of framed family
photos. The largest showed two young men grinning over a stringer
of freshly caught rainbow trout. Their features were so nearly
identical that a visitor would’ve been hard pressed to tell which
was Jordan and which was his twin brother, Justin.
When the picture was
taken the two had still been close. Three years later, Justin had
fallen for dark-eyed Angie Montoya, hostess in an upscale Mexican
restaurant off the Plaza. His determination to marry her had torn
the family apart.
Convinced the woman
was a gold-digger, Jordan and his parents had taken every action
they could think of to separate the couple. The resulting schism
between the brothers had never had a chance to heal. Rushing home
from a ski trip on the eve of Angie’s birthday, Justin had flown his
Cirrus SR22 plane into a storm and crashed into a Utah mountain.
Grief had dragged
Jordan’s father into an early grave and made a bitter old woman of
his mother. As for Angie Montoya, she had simply vanished—until
last week when, after nearly four years, Jordan had come across her
name. Searching further, he’d found a picture that had him on the
phone within the hour with the best private investigator in the
state. He’d wanted answers and now he was about to get them. The
report would almost surely confirm what Jordan had suspected.
Angelina Montoya had not only
stolen Justin from his family—she had stolen Justin’s son.
“You’ve been working hard
on that picture, Lucas.” Angie swiveled her chair away from the
bedroom computer hutch to give her son her full attention. “Why
don’t you tell me about it?”
Lucas held out the
drawing—three lopsided stick figures sketched in crayon on a sheet
of copy paper. “It’s our family. This short one is me. This one
with long black hair is you.”
“And who’s this, up here at
the top?” Anticipating the answer, Angie felt her throat tighten.
“That’s Daddy, up in
heaven. He’s looking out for us, just like you said.”
“That’s right. Do you want
to put this picture on the fridge to remind us?”
“Okay.” Clutching his
masterpiece, the boy scampered down the hall toward the tiny
kitchen. Angie gulped back a surge of emotion. It wasn’t easy,
living with daily reminders of Justin. But she’d wanted to make sure
Lucas didn’t feel fatherless. She kept Justin’s framed portrait at
the boy’s bedside and an album of snapshots on the bookshelf, within
his reach. His small fingers had worn the pages thin at the
Most of the photos showed
Justin and Angie together, or Justin alone. There were no pictures
of Justin’s family. After the way they’d treated her, she wanted
nothing to do with any of them—especially Jordan.
It was Jordan who’d come on
her birthday to bring the news of Justin’s death. He hadn’t said
much, but Jordan’s manner had made his feelings clear. Weeks
earlier, the family had offered her fifty thousand dollars to walk
away from Justin. If she’d taken it, Justin would still be alive.
Angie would never forget
the bitterness in those contemptuous gray eyes. How could two
brothers who looked so much alike be so different? Justin had been
warm and loving, quick to laugh and quick to forgive. The thought
of Jordan conjured up words like cold, judgmental,
She’d had firsthand experience with that particular trait of his.
The sound of the door
buzzer broke into her thoughts. “I’ll get it!” Lucas called.
“Stop right there, mister.
You know better.” Striding into the living room, she scooped him up
in her arms. Their cramped two-bedroom apartment was affordable,
but the neighborhood wasn’t the best. When someone came to the
door, Angie made it a rule to send Lucas to his room until she knew
the situation was safe. Maybe by next year, if her web design
business continued to grow, she’d have the money to rent a small
house with a fenced yard. Until then...
The doorbell buzzed again,
twice. Setting Lucas on his play rug, Angie closed the bedroom door
and hurried back down the hall. She didn’t get many visitors here,
and she certainly wasn’t expecting company. Any unexpected knock
tended to raise her suspicions.
Jordan tensed as the light,
rapid footsteps approached. Seeing Angie again was bound to be
awkward as hell. Maybe he should have sent somebody else
first—someone who could assess the situation without putting the
woman on her guard. But no, whatever waited on the other side of
that door, he was duty-bound to face up to it. He needed to do the
right thing—for his family legacy, for his brother’s memory...even
for Angie, if time had mellowed out her stubborn streak enough to
let her see reason.
The deadbolt slid back.
The latch clicked. Jordan held his breath as the door opened to the
width allowed by the security chain.
Eyes the hue of rich
black coffee stared up at him—eyes framed by lush, feathery lashes.
Jordan had almost forgotten how stunning those eyes could be. He
watched them widen, then narrow suspiciously.
“What do you want,
Jordan?” Her husky little voice, taut with strain, pricked his
“For starters, I’d
like to come in.”
“Why?” She made no
move to unfasten the chain.
It seemed her stubborn
streak hadn’t mellowed in the slightest. “So I won’t have to stand
out here and talk to you through this blasted door.”
“I can’t imagine we’d
have anything worth saying to each other.”
patience snapped. “You have a choice, Angie,” he growled. “Let me
in so we can talk like civilized people, or I’ll shout loud enough
to be heard all over the building. Either way, I’m not leaving
until you hear what I came to say.” He paused, reminding himself
that it wouldn’t do any good to threaten her. “Who knows,” he
added, “this might be something you’ll want to hear.”
He braced himself for
a stinging retort. Instead she simply closed the door. Jordan
waited in the silence. Seconds crawled past before he heard the
rattle of the chain. Slowly the door swung open.
He willed himself to
look at the apartment first. The living room was bright and clean,
the walls freshly painted, the slipcovered sofa decorated with red,
blue and yellow cushions. But the place didn’t look much bigger
than one of Jordan’s horse stalls. He had seen what was outside—the
loitering teens, the gang graffiti on the walls. If this was the
best Angie could afford, she had to be struggling financially.
There was no sign of
her son. Only a battered copy of Goodnight, Moon on the
coffee table betrayed the presence of a child in the apartment. She
would’ve put the boy out of sight, of course. Maybe that was the
reason she’d taken so long to undo the chain latch.
As he stepped inside,
closing the door behind him, Angie moved into Jordan’s line of
vision. She was dressed in a simple black tee and faded jeans that
fit her shapely body without being provocatively tight. Her dark
hair fell past her shoulders in silky waves. Her feet were bare,
the toenails painted a soft baby pink.
She was seductively
beautiful. But Jordan had been aware of that even before his
brother fell in love with her - and afterward too.
He braced against the
replay of that unguarded moment in his car, the taste of her tears,
the willing heat of her ripe mouth, the sinuous fit of her curves in
his arms. He’d done his best to block the memory. But forgetting a
woman like Angie was easier said than done.
He cleared his
throat. “Aren’t you going to ask me to sit down?”
“There’s room on the
sofa.” She was clearly ill at ease. He imagined she would have
liked to settle herself in a chair on the other side of the room,
but aside from the couch there was nowhere else to sit other than
the floor. After Jordan had taken his seat, she perched on the
padded arm at the far end, her toes working their way beneath the
Jordan shifted his
position to face her. She didn’t trust him, and he couldn’t blame
her. But somehow he had to make her listen. He had to make this
right—for Justin’s sake.
If he could help his
brother’s son and the woman Justin had wanted for his wife, then
maybe his brother’s soul would forgive him...and perhaps someday,
Jordan could forgive himself.
Jordan hadn’t changed.
Angie studied the frigid gray eyes, the pit bull set of his jaw, the
unruly brown hair with the boyish cowlick at the crown. If he
smiled he’d look a lot like Justin. But she’d hardly ever seen
Jordan smile, at least not at her.
The sight of him had sent
her pulse careening like a cornered animal’s. Jordan had the face
of the man she’d loved. But his heart was solid granite. If he’d
taken the trouble to track her down, she could be sure it wasn’t out
“How did you find me?” she
“Internet. Your name was
on a web site you’d designed for a printing business. Pure chance,
but I was curious. I clicked through to your home page and saw the
photo of you working at your computer. I couldn’t help noticing you
Angie’s heart dropped as
his words sank home. A neighbor had taken the picture. At the last
second, Lucas had moved in so close that the lower edge of the frame
showed the top of his head from the back.
A sick fear crept over
her. She could have cropped the photo. Such a simple precaution.
Why hadn’t she done it? What had she been thinking?
But the picture
couldn’t have told Jordan enough to bring him here. Angie’s temper
flashed as the truth dawned. “You had me investigated, didn’t you?”
His jaw tightened.
“Where’s the boy, Angie? Where’s Lucas?”
“You have no right to
ask!” She was on guard now, a tigress ready to strike in defense of
her cub. “Lucas is my son. My son!”
“And my brother’s
son. I have a copy of the birth certificate. You listed Justin as
the father. I’m assuming that’s the truth.”
inside her. “I did that for Lucas, so he’d know. But Justin...”
She gulped back a surge of emotion. “He never even knew I was
pregnant. I was going to tell him when he came home for my
“So you were never
married. Not even secretly.”
“No. You needn’t
worry on that account, Jordan. I have no claim on your family’s
precious money, or anything else. So go away and leave us alone.”
She studied his face
for some sign that her words had made an impact. But his expression
could have been chiseled in basalt.
“You might have told
us,” he said. “It would’ve meant a lot to my parents, knowing
Justin had left a child.”
“Your parents hated
me! How could I expose my innocent baby to those ugly feelings?”
“I want to see the
slammed. She’d had no warning, no time to prepare Lucas for this.
“I don’t think—” she
began. But it was too late. She heard the opening of the bedroom
door and the cautious tread of small sneakers. Evidently, Lucas had
grown tired of waiting and decided to check things out for himself.
Short of lunging for
her son, there was little Angie could do. She watched in mute
horror as Lucas emerged from the hallway and caught sight of their
His brown eyes opened
wide. Then his face lit with joyous wonder. “Daddy!” he cried,
racing across the room. “Daddy, you came back!”