Beneath the Stetson

By: Janice Maynard



One

Gil Addison didn’t like Feds. Even when they came wrapped in pretty packages. Perhaps it was the trace of Comanche blood in his veins that kept an atavistic memory alive...all those years of government promises made and broken. Gil was a white man living in a white man’s world, no doubt about it. Nothing much of his Native American heritage lingered except for his black hair, brown eyes and olive skin.

But the distrust remained.

He stood inside the house, hand on an edge of the curtain, and watched as a standard-issue dark sedan made its way down the long driveway. Technically, the woman for whom he waited wasn’t a Fed. She was a state investigator. But she had been trained by Feds, and that was close enough.

“Who is it, Daddy?”

His four-year-old son, Cade, endlessly curious, wrapped an arm around his father’s leg. Gil glanced down at the boy, smiling in spite of his unsettled emotions. “A lady who wants to talk to me. Don’t worry. It won’t take long.” He had promised Cade they would go riding today.

“Is she pretty?”

Gil raised an eyebrow. “Why would that matter?”

The child with the big, far-too-observant eyes grinned. “Well, if she is, you might want to date her and fall in love and then get married and—”

“This again?” Gil kept his hand over the boy’s mouth in a mock insistence on changing the subject. He knelt and looked Cade in the eyes. “I have you. That’s all I need.” Single parenting was not for wimps. Sometimes it was the loneliest job in the world. And Gil wondered constantly if he was making irrevocable mistakes. He hugged his son before standing up again. “I think I’ve been letting you watch too much TV.”

Cade pulled the curtains even farther aside and watched as the car rolled to a stop and parked. The car door opened and the woman stepped out. “She is pretty,” Cade said, practically bouncing with the energy that never seemed to diminish.

Inwardly, Gil agreed with Cade’s assessment, albeit reluctantly. Bailey Collins, despite the professional pantsuit that was as dark and unexceptional as her car, made an impression on a man. Only a few inches shy of Gil’s six-one height, she carried herself with confidence. Wavy, shoulder-length brown hair glinted in the sun with red highlights. Her thick-lashed eyes were almost as dark as Gil’s.

Though she was still too far away for Gil to witness those last two attributes, he had a good memory. Today was not his first encounter with Bailey Collins.

As she mounted his front steps, he opened the door, refusing to acknowledge that his heart beat faster than normal. The first time he met her, they had faced each other across a desk at Royal’s police station. Even then he’d felt a potent mix of sexual hunger and resentment. But Bailey was on his turf now. He’d be calling the shots. She might think her credentials gave her power, but he was not prepared to accept them at face value.

* * *

Bailey caught her toe on the edge of the top step and stumbled, almost falling flat on her face. Fortunately, she regained her balance at the last second, because in the midst of her gyrations the door flew open, and a man she recognized all too well stood framed in the doorway.

Gil Addison.

Even as she acknowledged the jolt to her chest, she was taken aback by the presence of a second male. The man for whom she felt an unwelcome but visceral attraction was not alone. He held the hand of a small boy, most likely—according to Gil’s dossier—his son. Even without written verification, she could have guessed the relationship. The young one was practically a carbon copy of his older counterpart.

The child broke free of his father’s hold and stepped forward to beam at Bailey. “Welcome to the Straight Arrow,” he said, holding out his hand with poignant maturity. His gap-toothed smile was infectious. “I’m Cade.”

Bailey squatted, holding out her hand, as well, feeling the warmth of the small palm as it nestled briefly in hers. “Hello, Cade,” she said. “I’m Bailey.”

“Ms. Collins,” Gil corrected with a slight frown. “I’m trying to teach him manners.”

“It’s not bad manners to use my first name if I offer the privilege,” Bailey said evenly, rising to face the man who had already given her sleepless nights.

Cade looked back and forth between the two adults. The thinly veiled antagonism between them was unfortunate, because Cade seemed first confused and then unhappy. The boy’s chin wobbled. “I wanted my dad to like you,” he whispered, staring up at Bailey with huge blue eyes that must have come from his mother.

Bailey’s heart melted. “Your dad and I like each other just fine,” she told Cade, daring Gil to disagree. “Sometimes grown-ups get frustrated about things, but that doesn’t mean we’re angry.” Even as an adult of thirty-three, she remembered vague impressions of her parents arguing. Yelling. Saying wretched, bitter words that couldn’t be unheard.

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