Susan Fisher-Davis - Bad Boys of Dry River 02 - Montgomery

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MONTGOMERY A Bad Boys of Dry River Novel

Susan Fisher-Davis

Erotic Romance

Secret Cravings Publishing

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A Secret Cravings Publishing Book Erotic Romance

Montgomery Copyright © 2015 Susan Fisher-Davis E-book ISBN: 978-1-63105-589-3

First E-book Publication: May 2015

Cover design by Dawné Dominique Edited by Sue Toth Proofread by Renee Waring All cover art and logo copyright © 2015 by Secret Cravings Publishing

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

PUBLISHER Secret Cravings Publishing

Dedication To Allan Spiers for the amazing photo. To James Joseph Pulido for being Montgomery To my readers. You are all amazing. Thank you.

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MONTGOMERY A Bad Boys of Dry River Novel Susan Fisher-Davis Chapter One

Isabella Lofton ran down the steps from the Governor’s mansion. She was late for her hair appointment but she spun around when she heard her mother calling for her. “Isabella! You still have to pick up your dress for the ball tonight.” Isabella smiled. “I know, mom. I’m going to pick it up after I get my hair done. I’ll be back in plenty of time.” She gave a wave, and then hopped into her car and tore down the driveway, stopping only long enough for the gate to swing open. She pushed the gas pedal down and drove down the road. Glancing in the review mirror, she shook her head when she saw the black SUV behind her. No matter how many times she stressed to her parents she didn’t want security, they

refused to listen. There was that constant reminder. She was the Governor’s daughter and she needed protection. It had been her main reason for moving to Oregon. Only a few people knew who she was there and she didn’t have to think about the men following her everywhere she went. The small law firm knew about her identity but no one else did, and she intended to keep it that way. Isabella was never one for the spotlight. She smiled at the thought of truly being in the spotlight but that was the future, since she intended to become governor one day, following her father’s example. It was early May. The air was crisp and the sun was shining down from a cloudless sky. The nights were still chilly but it was Wyoming, after all. She sighed, remembering how she really hated these dances at the mansion, but she’d promised her parents she’d be there. Her parents had been in politics for as long as Isabella could remember. She’d watched her father start his career as a lawyer and move up through the ranks to the grand post of Governor of Wyoming. She was so very proud of her father. It was what he’d always wanted. He stood for law and order, and he’d put his share of criminals away over the years and made a lot of enemies. One in particular made her stomach churn. Jonas Barkley was one of the meanest men around. He dealt in anything illegal, from drugs and prostitution to murder, and when her father put him away, he’d sworn he’d kill him and his family when he got out. Barkley would never get out though. He was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder with no possibility of parole. That had been five years ago when Isabella was twenty-one.

She’d never forget the look on his face when he stood in the courtroom and threatened her father, and then when he’d looked her way, he’d smiled. She’d almost gotten physically sick. Barkley had murdered her best friend’s family so Isabella wanted to be there to see him get what he deserved. Only he hadn’t, not as far as she believed. She thought he deserved the death penalty for what he’d done. She shook his evil grinning image from her head. That was a long time ago and thankfully, she’d never have to see his ugly face again. Her best friend Randi left Wyoming, never to return, which had broken her heart. They kept in touch, but it was getting fewer and further along between emails. First, the phone calls stopped and now the emails were fading. Isabella was sure it was because there were too many bad memories in Wyoming, and connected them with her. She wished it wasn’t so, but she knew it must be because they’d been friends at a time Randi’s world fell apart. Isabella didn’t blame her, but she did miss her very much. Isabella pulled up in front of the hair salon and after parking her car, she strolled inside. Casey, her stylist, smiled at her and had her sit in the chair at her usual station. Isabella smiled and told her to work her magic. Casey laughed and did just that. An hour later, Isabella stopped at the dress shop to pick up her dress and make sure the alterations were fine. She tried it on quickly and laughed as she twirled in front of the mirror. The long blue gown was strapless and had a tight bodice, the waist cinched, with the skirt flaring out from her hips to the

floor. The color matched her blue eyes to perfection, a dark shade of blue resembling indigo. Her eyes were the first thing a person noticed when meeting her or looking at her for the first time. Her long red hair was set in waves flowing over her shoulders. She was a very beautiful woman but never thought of herself in that way. She’d always had a great sense of humor and a vibrant personality. She didn’t pride herself on her looks and had made her way on her skills as an attorney, not her family’s name. Five years ago, she’d made the decision to become a lawyer, following in both of her parents’ footsteps. After watching Jonas Barkley not getting what he deserved, she’d decided to make sure it never happened again. She knew she had a long way to go to get the big cases, but she was ready. Isabella put the dress in her car and headed back toward the mansion. She had her own condo, which she used when she was in town, but she planned to dress at the mansion so she’d be ready when the ball started. She frowned at the thought of having Sean Jones as her escort, but he was a nice man, and her parents liked him. Her parents wanted her to marry the up-and-coming Assistant District Attorney but she didn’t like him enough to date him, let alone marry him. He just didn’t float her boat. She chuckled. Then again, it wasn’t her boat that needed floating. She ran into the mansion and on up the stairs. The place was like a castle to her with the big double door entryway and large chandeliers hanging everywhere. There were marble floors and mirrors everywhere you looked. It was too gaudy for her liking, although she’d have to put up with it when she became governor. She’d prefer a nice home with a few acres,

where she could have horses and dogs. Being the animal lover she was, she volunteered at the Humane Society any weekend she was free. She’d adopt them all if she had a place big enough for them, a nice quiet place, maybe, where she could pursue her writing career too. Other than wanting to become an attorney, she’d always wanted to write a book. If her political aspirations didn’t work out, she planned to write. She kept a small journal of her writings, which only her best friend ever saw. Isabella hadn’t even let her mother see it. Isabella loved romance and she wanted it for herself. A man who would love her more than anything. A man who would stand beside her and love her in spite of her faults, as she would love him. Closing the door to the bedroom she was staying in, she placed her gown on the bed before strolling into the adjoining bath to turn the water on in the tub. The large stained glass window above the tub let the sunshine in, making prisms dance along the opposite wall. She planned on a long bubble bath before she had to get through the next few hours. After filling the tub with hot water, she slid down into the comforting warmth and groaned as the water engulfed her. Leaning her head back, Isabella closed her eyes and wished the night were already over. **** Three hours later, her toes were aching. Sean was no dancer. He apologized time and time again. Isabella smiled and suggested that it might be better if they sat down. As they took a seat at the table, she glanced around. It was a good

crowd. A good, but boring crowd. She hated these things, but she loved dressing up, even if the ball itself was nothing to get excited about. She’d love, if just once, for them to have a good country band. She almost laughed. Wouldn’t all these stuffed shirts just have a fit if a country band were playing? A little line dancing would make it much more fun. She sighed. That wasn’t going to happen any time soon. When she became governor, she’d make sure that was changed. Sean left to get them something to drink and returned with a couple of drinks far quicker than she’d wanted. He took his seat beside her. Sipping at her drink, she kept watching the crowd. “What are you thinking about, Isabella?” Sean asked her. “How boring this is.” He almost choked on his drink. “You can’t be serious? This is great. I’d love to be governor one day and have all this.” She smiled at him. “Oh, Sean, you can’t be the governor if I am.” He burst out laughing. Isabella knew he thought she was kidding. She smiled slyly and sipped her drink. She made a face when she saw Rebecca Jennings heading their way. The tops of her breasts were popping out of her dress. Glancing down at her own chest, she sighed woefully. Hers were just peeking. “Hello, Sean. Isabella.” Rebecca had always been jealous of Isabella but Isabella didn’t care for her either. Sean’s face turned beet red. “Hello, Rebecca. How are you?”

Rebecca leaned forward, showing more of her cleavage. “I’m just wonderful, Sean.” Isabella snorted. Rebecca glared at her. Isabella shrugged and looked at Sean. “Why don’t you dance with Rebecca?” She stood and started to move past Rebecca but halted beside her. “I think you should make sure a dress is the right size before buying it,” she whispered so only Rebecca would hear her. Rebecca gasped and glared at her. Sean sputtered as Isabella glided across the dance floor toward the bathroom. She’d love to see the look on Rebecca’s face the first time Sean stepped on her toes, so she stopped at the door and turned around. Watching the couple enter the dance floor, the shocked look on Rebecca’s face when he stepped on her toes almost immediately was worth all the boring time Isabella had just spent with him. She laughed happily and entered the bathroom. Inside she touched up her make-up and was about to head back out when she heard the distinct sound of gunfire. Anxious, she quickly headed toward the door. Opening it slowly, she peeked out and saw four men in dark clothing with ski masks on. Closing the door softly so as not to be noticed, Isabella turned the lock and leaned back against the door. Dear God! What was going on? She knew there was only one way out. Maybe if she just stayed quiet, they wouldn’t look in the bathroom but she knew that was probably wishful thinking on her part. They must be here to rob everyone, which meant they’d look everywhere.

She started shaking. Oh God! Her parents were out there. Her mother was probably terrified. Isabella heard women screaming and men yelling. Gunfire went off again and someone was shouting. Isabella slowly opened the door again. “I will start shooting people if someone doesn’t tell me where the governor is!” The masked man who stood in front of the other men shouting had to be the leader. He kept gazing around. His eyes stopped on every man in the place, and then he yelled out for everyone to take a seat at their tables. Isabella looked for her parents but didn’t see them. The men who guarded them must’ve gotten them out as soon as the trouble started. Isabella sighed with relief. The sheriff’s department had several men at the ball for protection due to all of the important people attending the event at the mansion. She watched the man walk to one of the tables and point his gun at Harrison Washington. “Where is he, Washington?” he demanded using Harrison’s name. “I have no idea,” Harrison Washington told him. The man hit him with the butt of his gun. Isabella cringed, covering her mouth to keep anyone from hearing her fearful moan. “I will kill you. Do you understand me?” He leaned down close toward Harrison. “I know that, but I wouldn’t tell you if I did know. The police got him out of here when the shooting started. Maybe you should talk to your cohorts. They let him get away. You should’ve gotten better men to help you, Barkley.”

Isabella gasped audibly and quickly clasped her hand over her mouth. Barkley! Was it possible? How had he gotten out of prison? How did Harrison know it was Barkley? She watched as Harrison smiled up at Barkley. “You don’t need the ski mask, Barkley. I recognize your voice.” Barkley laughed without humor. “So you know me. Then you know I want the bastard who put me away. I told him I’d be coming to get him and his family. This is just a setback. I will find him.” Harrison Washington stood. “Fuck you, Barkley.” Barkley turned his back to him and smiled at his men, but then turned back to Harrison and shot him in the chest. Harrison looked shocked, and then fell to the floor. His wife screamed and ran to him. Everyone stood. Barkley shot his gun into the air, making everyone cringe back into their seats. He looked at his men. “Turn this place upside down. For every hour we don’t find him, someone dies.” Isabella was terrified. What should she do? She couldn’t let him kill innocent people. She was so scared, but knew she only had one choice. Taking a deep breath, she opened the bathroom door and stepped out. “You don’t need to kill any more people.”

Barkley turned to look at her then moved toward her and came to a stop in front of her. He took his mask off and smiled at her. “Well, well, well. Look at who we have here…if it isn’t the governor’s daughter, Isabella Lofton. I remember you from the courtroom. You looked down that pretty little nose of yours at me like I was dirt.” “Not dirt…scum,” Isabella hissed defiantly, raising her chin at him. Barkley burst out laughing, and then quickly sobered. “You’ll do.” He wrapped his fingers around her arm and told his men to get out. He dragged Isabella with him before turning back toward the people in the room. “I’m letting you live because I want you to let Governor Lofton know I have his precious daughter and I’ll trade her for him. I’ll be calling in a few days to make the switch.” Isabella glanced around at the faces in the crowd. They looked as stunned as she felt, but she knew there was nothing they could do to help her. Barkley led her down the steps to a van parked in the driveway. She saw two sheriff’s deputies lying on the ground, in all likelihood dead. She choked back a sob. Barkley put her in the back and moved to the front passenger seat. He turned around in the seat to keep his gun aimed at her. “How did you get out of prison?” she asked him. He shrugged. “It helps to have friends in certain places. It doesn’t concern you. Your daddy will trade places with you.

Only thing is, you see, I don’t plan on doing any trading, I plan on killing you both. You’ll be kept alive until I have him, too.” Isabella sat back and folded her arms across her chest. Barkley’s eyes went to her breasts. He grinned at her. She turned her head away from him. She knew she had to act cool or he’d play on her fears. She just wished she wasn’t wearing a gown and four-inch heels because she’d be more than willing to risk jumping out if she had jeans and running shoes on. She was looking at the scenery they were passing, trying to recognize something, anything, which might help her when the van came to a stop. The man who’d been driving got out and opened the side door. Reaching in, he tied her hands together, and then put a blindfold over her eyes. She bit back a groan as she realized she’d never know where they were going now. She heard him get back into the driver’s seat and start driving again. It seemed like quite a while before they came to a stop again. Someone pulled her from the van, carried her into a house, and set her on her feet. The person took the blindfold off her. Isabella blinked her eyes against the light until they adjusted. The man standing in front of her looked at the top of her breasts and leered at her. She smiled sweetly, and then slammed her knee into his groin. He grunted and hit the floor. She tried to kick him again but someone grabbed her from behind. “You did enough damage, princess. Let him alone,” a deep voice said in her ear. She shivered. She could feel his breath on her cheek. He pulled her by the arm, leading her to a chair

where he pushed her down into it. She glared up at him but he stood so the light was at his back. She couldn’t make out his face—just his body. He was tall, well over six feet. His broad shoulders blocked the light. She could see he wore a T-shirt, which hugged his flat chest and stomach. He moved away from her to stand behind the chair. “What the hell were you thinking, Barkley? The governor’s daughter, for Christ’s sake.” “I didn’t have a choice. Damn guards got Lofton out of there before I had a chance to look for him.” “Shit! This isn’t a good idea. We need to take her somewhere and drop her off.” “No,” Barkley shouted. “I’ll tell him he can take her place. I’m the boss here and I make the decisions. You just keep an eye on her.” Isabella heard the man sigh with irritation as Barkley left the kitchen. “If you behave, I’ll untie your hands. Don’t try anything. Got it?” he said to her. She nodded since she knew she didn’t have a choice. This man would chase her down and she had a very strong feeling he’d catch her. He moved back to the front of the chair. She watched him untie the rope and once she was untied, she rubbed her wrists. “Thank you,” she whispered. She wanted to cry, but she refused to let any of them see her fear. She watched as he moved away from her. “Do you want something to drink? Coffee? Water?” he asked with his back to her. A very broad back. His tight jeans

hugged his butt. A very nice butt. “Coffee, please.” She saw him nod and get two coffee cups out of the cupboard. He filled both and set hers on the table. He added sugar and cream to his. “You can come over here and make it the way you like it,” he told her, and then he leaned a lean hip against the counter. Isabella knew he watched her every move. She walked toward the table, spooned four teaspoons of sugar into her coffee, and then added cream before taking a seat at the table. “Do you like a little coffee in your sugar?” he asked with a smile in his voice. She nodded at the question. “I need something to kill the taste of the coffee.” He chuckled and she glanced up at him. The air whooshed out of her. He was…gorgeous. Drop-dead gorgeous! The man was at least six four without an ounce of fat on him. All solid muscle. The muscles in his arm flexed as he lifted the coffee cup to his mouth. A mouth that was…heart stopping sexy. A bow shaped upper lip with a full bottom lip. His cheekbones were high, his chin strong. His jaw line was hard and covered with stubble. He was a very rugged looking man. His hair touched the bottom of his nape, cut in different lengths and was so black she swore that if she touched it, she’d have ink on her hands. His black eyebrows were thick and sat over green eyes. His nose was straight and narrow. He looked

to have Native American in him. Her gaze traveled down the length of him. His jeans left little to the imagination. They hugged him perfectly. Continuing down his long legs, her gaze landed on well-worn cowboy boots. She was in awe of him. She’d never seen a sexier man in her life and she’d met plenty of them attending balls at the mansion. She dropped her gaze when she remembered where she was and what he was—a criminal. **** Montgomery Bradford stood there staring at her. He’d known she was beautiful but to see her in person was like a kick in the gut. Her long red hair was so beautiful, he wanted to wrap it around his hand and pull it to his face. It reminded him of the color of rich ground cinnamon. Her pert nose made him want to kiss it. The Cupid’s bow mouth was so soft looking it was making his water. But it was those blue eyes that really pulled a person in. They were the most amazing shade of blue. She was taller than he’d expected. She was almost six feet tall in those heels so he figured that put her at about five foot eight. He shook his head. He was here for a reason and he had to keep his concentration where it belonged. When Barkley told him he was going to the mansion, Mont thought it was a bad idea. He didn’t like the idea of Barkley planning to kill all of the family. He’d seen the pictures of the family and his heart had hit his stomach when his gaze landed on Isabella Lofton’s photo. He couldn’t let him kill her, but

Barkley hadn’t allowed him to go with them. Forced to stay behind, the entire time he sat at the house, he’d prayed Barkley didn’t kill anyone but especially the beautiful young woman now sitting at the table. When he discovered Barkley had brought her back as hostage, he’d breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t happy about the innocent men killed though. He knew the police would protect the governor and the first lady. Barkley was an idiot thinking he could just stroll into the governor’s mansion and take the governor. But what he’d done was worse. Now Barkley had a bargaining chip. Mont sighed and took a seat at the table beside her. She refused to look at him. “Are you hungry?” he asked her. She shook her head and sipped her coffee. She sat the cup down and stared at it. “Don’t even think about it, princess,” Mont said low with warning. Her head jerked up and she glared at him. “How do you know what I’m thinking? And stop calling me princess.” He held her gaze, and when she raised her chin glaring at him harder, Mont hid a smile. She was tough. Good. She was going to need to be. “I could see the wheels turning as you looked at that coffee cup. What else am I supposed to call you–princess?” She glanced down at her evening dress and frowned. “You can call me by my name,” she hissed. “I don’t suppose you have some other clothes I could change into?” “Not right now, but I’ll see what I can do, princess Bella.”

“Well, that’s fitting since you’re obviously the Beast.” Isabella dropped her gaze back to her cup, but he noticed her shoulders tense and there was the frown again, which furrowed her lovely brow. She nodded her head, a subtle bit of gratitude, and yawned. The tops of her breasts rose higher in the gown. Mont felt his groin tighten. Fuck! He couldn’t afford to get involved with her in any way, shape, or form. He was here for one reason and one reason only. He stood and rinsed his cup out. She pushed hers away toward him. He took it and rinsed it out too. “Come on, I’ll show you where you’ll sleep.” Isabella stood. He took her arm in his hand and led her to a room off the living room. It was just a normal house for them to stay in until Barkley got to his main agenda, Governor Lofton. There was a couch, a recliner, and another chair in the room with a TV located in the corner. The floor was hardwood and covered with scatter rugs. It was a one-story house. Silas Blackman, the man Isabella had kicked in the groin, stood up from the recliner and moved toward them. He was short and overweight, and his brown hair was dirty and greasy. “I’ll take her to the room,” he said to Mont. “I don’t think you will. She already proved she’s able to kick your ass. I’ll take care of it,” Mont said with conviction in his voice. He’d made up his mind he was the only one who would take care of her. The man gave him an evil look, but backed off. Mont led her to a room, opened the door, reaching inside to turn on the light, and then he nodded for her to enter.

He watched Isabella Lofton move into the room and stop in the center of it before glancing toward the bathroom. “There’s no window in there, so forget it and the one in here is nailed shut.” **** Isabella turned to glare at her captor. How in the hell did he know what she was thinking all the time? He grinned at her, showing perfect, even white teeth. Dimples peeked in his cheeks. He was drop dead gorgeous… and undoubtedly, dangerous. It was important she remember who the man’s boss was. Sure, if she had met him at any other time, she probably would have flirted with him, but he was one of the bad guys. Gorgeous, he was definitely gorgeous, certainly not a beast but on the wrong side of the law all the same. She sighed in defeat, and walked slowly to the bed, taking a seat on the edge of it. The room was sparsely furnished. The king size bed sat against one wall. There was a dresser with a TV on it and a window on the wall with a doorway leading to a bathroom. The last wall held the door through which they’d entered. She wasn’t going anywhere too soon. “So am I supposed to sleep in this gown?” “Princess, you can sleep nude if you want. Not my problem.” He strode out the door and pulled it closed behind him. She heard a lock turn and wanted to scream.

Isabella knew she had to get out of here. She should have flirted with him. Maybe if she got him interested in her, she could get him to help her. Stifling a yawn, she groaned. Tomorrow. She’d try getting him on her side tomorrow. Whatever it took to get him to help her, she’d try. Getting away from Barkley was her main agenda. The man was pure evil and she hated him. She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes. A tear slipped out one corner, and then another followed. She knew her parents had to be terrified knowing she’d been taken. She imagined her mother crying for her and her father demanding the FBI do whatever it took to find her. All the warnings, and reminders to be careful and, when it did happen, it was from their home she was taken. She cried herself to sleep. **** Mont sat in the living room watching TV but his mind was on Isabella Lofton. This wasn’t part of the plan. Barkley had said he was going to bring the governor back here, and then Mont as Colt Raines would do what he had to do. Barkley fucked up. Mont tried to tell him there would be extra protection there, but Barkley refused to believe he couldn’t slip in there and get the governor. Then Mont heard they’d gone in there blazing. He’d been shocked when Smitty, one of the other men with Barkley, told him their boss had killed a man and that man was Harrison Washington. He’d told Mont how Washington had stood up to Barkley, and then Barkley shot him. He admitted all the men were shocked, but who was

going to go up against Jonas Barkley? They had also killed two sheriff’s deputies standing guard out front. Mont knew Harrison Washington was a close friend of the governor and his family. Damn it! It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Now Barkley had a way to get whatever he wanted because he had Isabella. He wondered if Barkley knew Isabella was an attorney. He knew her background because he’d done his homework on the family before all of this went down. Jesus Christ! He ran his fingers through his thick hair. He was getting antsy. Could anything have gone worse? He stood and began pacing. Barkley should know better than to think the FBI would ever allow the governor to switch places with his daughter. Mont ran his fingers through his hair again in frustration, continuing to pace. He was so angry with Barkley. It was a stupid move on his part. He sighed. He had to suppose Barkley thought he’d had no choice but to take Isabella, after all, she’d seen him and knew who he was. God. Damn. It! **** Blackman’s eyes never left Raines as he paced the room. He didn’t trust him. He’d gotten too close to Barkley too fast. He’d always been Barkley’s right hand man, but now Raines was and Blackman could kill him and feel good about it. If Raines were out of the way, he’d have a chance at that little redhead. Oh, how he’d love to show her how good it would be with him. Damn Raines!

Pretty boy was always in the way. He needed to get rid of him somehow. Once he figured out how then he’d go after the redhead. He’d always liked redheads. His eyes never left Raines as the man paced back and forth. “Something bothering you, Raines?” Blackman growled with an angry sneer. “Why would I tell you if there was?” Blackman chuckled. “I bet that little piece of ass in there is making your dick hard. We’d all like a shot at her.” Raines stopped and glared at him. Blackman watched the man’s hands clench into fists. “You’ll never get close to her as long as I’m alive.” Blackman burst out laughing. “Yet another fucking reason to take you out.” “Try it,” Raines said in a low, but deadly voice. Blackman stood and moved toward him. “I’d love to but not yet. Your time will come. You and I will tangle. I can see it coming.” “Anytime, Blackman, anytime.” Raines narrowed his eyes at him, goading him to make the first move, and then nodded. Blackman scoffed. “You can bet your ass I’ll be ready,” he hissed at Raines before he strode from the living room and out the back door.

Chapter Two

Isabella woke feeling disoriented. Her gaze moved around the dark room, but she couldn’t make out anything. Then it came to her. That bastard, Jonas Barkley, had kidnapped her. With a groan of frustration, she got out of the bed to use the bathroom and bumped into something, hearing a grunt. Backing up, she hit the edge of the bed while reaching for the lamp she remembered being on the bedside table. Switching it on, she let out a gasp when she saw the man seated in the chair by the bathroom door. “Going somewhere, princess?” he asked, half-closing his eyes against the light. “I…I need to use the bathroom,” she told him with a scowl. “Why are you in here?” “Making sure you don’t try anything…” She snorted and looked away. “And to keep Blackman away from you.” Her head snapped back. “Is Blackman the man I kicked?” At his nod, she felt her insides quake. “Do you think he would try something?” “Sweetheart, I know he would if I wasn’t here. He’s interested in you far too much for my peace of mind. Rape was

never supposed to be part of the deal.” Isabella took a deep breath, feeling the blood rush from her head. She felt sick and shuddered, thinking she might pass out. “Trust me. He’s right outside that door. Any chance he gets to come in here, he’ll take it. If you try to get something over on me and get past me, he’ll be right there to catch you. He wouldn’t hesitate in letting Barkley know how I fucked up and insist that he needs to be the one to watch you.” He shrugged. “Up to you, darlin’, but I think I’m the lesser of two evils.” She nodded. She knew he was right. It was true he was a bad guy, but he hadn’t made any inappropriate moves or suggestive comments. She stared at him. “What’s your name?” “Why?” “Your name is why? Your parents certainly had a strange sense of humor.” She tilted her head down so he wouldn’t see her smile. “You’re a real smart-ass, princess, beautiful and a smart mouth. What more could a man want?” “Why can’t you tell me your name? What’s it going to hurt? You know mine.” Isabella grinned at him with as much a flirty attitude as she could muster. “Colt Raines,” he said in low evasive tone. Colt Raines. Isabel rolled the name through her head. She liked it. Somehow, it suited him. She thought it was very sexy, just like him. Why did he have to be a criminal? She curled her legs under her, tilting her head at him.

“Why do you do this?” He shrugged. “Why not? The money’s good.” “It’s wrong, Colt. What happened in your life that you would turn to a life of crime?” He stood and walked to the window, pulling back the curtain. He turned his back to her, but then he spun to face her. “It’s none of your business. I thought you had to use the bathroom. Do it and get back to bed.” The tone of voice he used hurt her. She’d made him angry. She couldn’t afford to do that, not if she was hoping to get him on her side and help her get out of there. She gave him a nod and climbed off the bed, hurrying into the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and after using the facilities, she gazed into the mirror. She was a mess. With smeared make-up and mascara, she looked like a zombie. Turning on the water, she washed her face. As a last minute thought, she took her gown and pantyhose off. She was going to walk out there in her bra and boy-cut panties. It was no less than wearing a swimsuit, she told herself. Isabella was going to get him to help her one way or another. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped out. She hid a triumphant grin when she heard Colt hiss in a breath. He grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face him. “What are you up to, princess Bella?” he said, softly but not menacingly. “Me? Nothing. Why?”

He chuckled softly. “That may work on other men, but it’s not going to work on me. I have way more self-control than you can ever imagine. Although, I will say if this was another time…” He looked her up and down. “I’d very happily take you up on the offer, in a heartbeat.” She jerked her arm from his grasp. “I just wanted to be more comfortable. Don’t flatter yourself.” He laughed. “Sure. Get in bed.” Trying not to let him know how self-conscious she suddenly felt, she walked to the bed and got under the covers. Pulling them up to her chin, she watched him from under her lashes. He returned to his seat in the chair, stretched his long legs out in front of him, crossing his booted ankles before clasping his hands across his flat stomach and closing his eyes. Damn him! He knew she was trying to distract him. So he was no dummy. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. His hair fell down over his forehead and her hands itched to smooth it back. His Tshirt sleeves were tight on his biceps. He had a great body. She could tell he took care of it. She just couldn’t understand why he’d be involved in this and probably never would. She mentally shrugged. Why would anyone deliberately get into this way of life? Barkley was just a bad person. Colt didn’t seem to be, but then what did she know? She’d always had a good life, growing up with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, and she’d always gotten what she’d wanted as a child. Spoiled by both her parents, she’d never wanted for anything but she never acted as if she was better than anyone else was. She had friends who didn’t grow up the same way.

Patsy Murphy came to mind. She loved Patsy. They were so close. They’d met at the Humane Society in Oregon, walking dogs. Patsy worked there as a veterinary tech. They’d gotten along from the very start. Complete opposites in that Isabella was tall, whereas Patsy was petite. She barely reached five foot four, but she was no pushover. She was feisty and said what she thought. If someone didn’t like it, she couldn’t care less. She’d even given Isabella the nickname of Bella. She was the only person who used the nickname, at least until now. She adored Patsy and missed her. Isabella suddenly felt saddened by what she could only imagine was going through Patsy’s mind right now. Surely, her kidnapping was all over the news and Patsy would be upset for her best friend. Isabella smiled. If Patsy could get here, she’d make sure none of these men was left standing once she got through with them. She glanced over at Colt. All of them, except him. He’d still be standing. It would take more than a feisty petite woman to take him down. She was allowing her admiring gaze to travel over him again when he suddenly spoke. “You really need to stop looking at me like that, princess. I might get ideas.” She swore she saw his mouth twitch. She huffed, pulling the covers over her head, but heard him chuckle. She eventually fell asleep under the covers. **** Mont woke up to the sound of Barkley pounding on the door yelling for him to come out. He jumped up out of the

chair and opened the door. Barkley looked in and saw Isabella under the covers. He motioned with his head for Mont to follow him to the living room. Mont glanced over his shoulder at Isabella and started out of the room. Blackman moved to step inside, but Mont stopped in front of him blocking the man. “She’s not going anywhere and you aren’t going in there.” He stared Blackman down. Blackman mumbled under his breath, and went back to his chair in the living room. Barkley grinned at Mont. “He just wants to have some fun with the redhead.” “Over my dead body,” Mont told him. Barkley raised his eyebrows. “Want her for yourself, huh?” He shrugged. “Not going to happen. I won’t have any of you raping her. It’s something I will not allow.” He looked around the room. “Any of you, got it?” Mont took a deep breath and exhaled. “Like I said, over my dead body. Rape isn’t going to be part of the deal and trust me, anyone here tries will only get it by rape with that one.” Blackman stood jutting his chin high. “Except maybe for you, pretty boy.” Mont grinned. “Jealous?” “Fuck you,” Blackman yelled. Mont burst out laughing, making Blackman furious. Barkley stepped in. “Sit down. All of you.” He looked at Blackman. “Colt’s right. Rape isn’t going to be a part of this. We may be sons of bitches for anything else, but not rape. I don’t like it and it won’t happen.” He looked at Blackman. “You got that?”

Blackman finally nodded while glaring at Mont. Mont ignored him and took a seat. Barkley paced a bit before speaking again. “I had a letter delivered to the governor. I told him we wanted to trade him for his daughter. If I don’t hear something in a week, I’ll kill her.” “What’s that going to gain you? You kill her and you’ll never get who you really want. I’m telling you the FBI will never let a trade like you’re asking happen. They will let you kill his daughter before they let him come here for a trade. You fucked up, Jonas. I told you it wasn’t going to work,” Mont said watching him close. “You should let her go. Take her somewhere and drop her off. This was a stupid ass move.” Barkley glared at him. Mont noted how a vein in the man’s neck pulsed. He was growing angry. “I know I fucked up. I don’t need you to tell me that. Shit! If you were any other man, I’d kill you right now for saying such a thing to me.” He sucked in a breath and exhaled. “But I know you’re right. I should have waited for my chance. When I heard about the ball, I just wanted to go after him and I thought it was my best chance. I knew better too.” He shook his head. “Now I have his daughter and I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.” He began to pace. “I’ll just have to see what happens. It may work. If not, I’ll kill her to make a point.” “What point would that be?” Mont asked. “That Jonas Barkley does what he says. She’s nothing to me, but she’s that bastard’s only child. It’ll hurt him and that’ll

be good enough until I finally do get him. And I will get him. One day, I will get him.” Mont’s blood ran cold. He couldn’t let Barkley kill her. Fuck! What in the hell was he going to do? Killing her would prove nothing. Who cared if Barkley keeps his word or not? Not the governor, that’s for sure. Once the man’s daughter was dead, he wouldn’t care about anything, even if Barkley were to get to him. Mont had to make Barkley see that. “He won’t care about your word if you kill his daughter. He won’t care about anything if you kill her. His life will be over anyway. You have to do something different,” Mont said. Barkley stopped pacing and glared at him. “Why are you so fucking smart?” Mont arched an eyebrow at him. Barkley shook his head. “God damn it. I know you’re right. I need to get the governor. That’s all there is to it. I’ll see what the letter does, if anything. If they don’t make a trade we’ll just have to get him some other way.” He looked around the room. “That means none of you do anything to that girl. Colt will be the one to watch her. He thinks with the head on his shoulders not the one on his dick like the rest of you pricks.” Barkley strode from the room. Blackman once again glared at Mont. Mont winked at him, pissing him off even more. The man made a quick move in his direction, but when Mont failed to move, Blackman sat back down. Mont chuckled with satisfaction and returned to the bedroom where Isabella still slept. He opened the door, quietly stepping inside. She was still under the covers. He took his

seat in the chair, assuming his previous position and closed his eyes. He hoped to get a little sleep before she woke up. **** When Isabella woke, her gaze immediately went to the chair where Colt still lounged with his eyes closed. Then she noticed a pair of jeans and a top across the end of the bed and on the floor alongside the bed was a pair of running shoes. She looked at the clothes, and then at him. He was asleep. Good Lord, he was something. She reached for the jeans and top. They looked to be her size. Where had they come from? She glanced over to the clock on the nightstand and was shocked to see it was just past noon. She’d never slept that late in her life. Pushing the covers off, she put the top on. It actually fit. Standing, she pulled the jeans on. They fit perfectly too. There were ankle socks tucked inside the running shoes. She was amazed they were also the right size. She tiptoed to the bathroom, passing Colt, and once inside, quietly closed the door. She washed her face, used the facilities, and returned to the bedroom. Colt was awake and sitting up in the chair. “Thank you for the clothes and shoes,” she said, trying not to look at him. He shrugged. “You couldn’t wear that gown all the time. And I’m sure those heels would be a killer to wear all day long.”

She nodded and tipped her head to the side. “How did you know my size?” He stood up and stretched. Isabella averted her eyes. How could she be so attracted to him? He walked to the window and gazed out. “I guessed at the jeans and top. The shoes were easy. I just looked to see what size your fuck me shoes were.” He turned to look at her. She knew she was blushing and so turned away from him. He burst out laughing. She turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow in question. “You paraded around here last night in your underwear yet you blush when I say your heels scream ‘fuck-me’.” Damn if he wasn’t right. She smiled and shrugged. She had best keep things friendly with him if she wanted him to help her. Her stomach growled making him grin. “Let’s get some food in you, princess.” He opened the door for her. She hesitated before going out. “It’s okay, we’re alone. They all went to another place. This house is just for strategizing, and for keeping you in.” She snorted. “I feel honored.” He chuckled and followed her out. As he moved around her in the kitchen, Isabella took a seat at the table. He opened the fridge and looked inside. “What would you like? Breakfast or lunch?” “Lunch is fine. What do you have?” She stood and walked toward the fridge, coming to stand behind him, trying to see

around him. He turned to say something and ran into her. He quickly caught her around the waist as she started to fall backwards. She grabbed his arms as he pulled her against him. Her breath caught as she looked up at him. He was staring at her mouth. Without thinking, she licked her bottom lip. As if in pain, he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. When he opened them, whatever he was thinking had cleared and he removed his hands from her waist. She dropped her hands from his arms, stepping away from him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were behind me,” he said in apology and glanced away. “It’s okay. I should have let you know I was there.” She couldn’t look at him either. He made her feel things she’d never felt before, but he was not the man for her. He was in with a man who murdered people. “Were you with Barkley when he murdered that family?” she asked him in a quiet curious voice. “No. I met him in prison. We struck up a…well, a friendship, you could say.” “How did he get out? Who helped him?” Suddenly, Isabella was shaking with anger. “I did,” he said, not looking at her. Isabella gasped. Glaring at him, she shook her head. “I knew you were a bad person, but to get him out! I don’t understand why anyone would help that monster get out of prison. He’s a murderer. I hate you!” She ran from the kitchen toward the bedroom where she’d spent the night. She slammed the door behind her, threw herself on the bed, and cried.

**** Mont knew she wasn’t going to like the answer she got, but he wasn’t going to lie to her. She’d find out soon enough. Either one of the men would say something or Barkley himself would, but it would’ve come out sooner or later. Mont had gotten him out of prison and he had his own reasons for it, reasons which had nothing to do with her. Reasons she would never know. He walked to the bedroom door and started to knock, but changed his mind and threw the door open, making it slam into the wall. Isabella sat up quickly and wiped the tears from her eyes. Mont strode over to her and grabbed her arm, narrowing his eyes at her. “You need to get something through your head, princess. I’m not your friend. You’re not going to twist my mind into helping you. I won’t help you escape no matter what you do. You can parade around in your underwear and tempt me, but it won’t work. If you think that fucking me will change my mind then sure, by all means, let’s try it. It won’t do you any good, though. I will not help you get out of here,” he said through clenched teeth. He stared at her, watching a tear roll down her cheek. It took everything he had not to take her in his arms. To save himself more than her, he spun on his heel and stormed out of the room. Pulling the door closed, he locked it. Standing there outside the door, he wanted to bang his head against it. Clenching his fists, he marched through the kitchen and out the back door. He kicked at a rock in the driveway, but it didn’t help. Ramming his fist through a wall wouldn’t help

either. He knew that. Taking several deep breaths, he finally calmed down. Damn her! He couldn’t help her. He couldn’t. No matter how much he wanted to. He just couldn’t. **** Isabella wanted to scream at Colt. How could he help a man like Barkley escape prison? The man was a monster. Barkley didn’t care who he hurt and she needed to remember that. He’d kill her in a heartbeat. God, she needed to get out of here. There was no way Colt was going to help her. She knew that now. She got off the bed and put her ear to the door but didn’t hear anything. He’d locked the door, but Colt was out there somewhere. She glanced around the room, and then moved to the window, pulling the curtain back. Damn, he hadn’t lied. The window was nailed shut. Wait, someone hadn’t pounded the nails flush. She looked around the room again, trying to find anything she could use to get those nails out, when her glance fell on her heels lying on the floor. She picked one of them up and started using the heel against one of the nails. She was tearing her shoe up, but the nail was actually moving. She kept putting the heel against it and pushing. It was moving, but not quickly enough for her liking. She forced herself to be patient and work at it slowly. She ran for the bed when she heard someone unlocking the door and hid her shoe under the bed cover. She took a seat on the bed. Colt opened the door, carrying a tray, which he set on the bed. She saw he’d made her a sandwich and brought her a soda. He didn’t say anything or look at her as he left the room. Isabella released a long breath of relief. She was no longer

hungry, but she ate the sandwich anyway since she’d need her strength if she were to escape. After eating the sandwich, she set the tray in the chair by the door and went back to working on the nail. At least she’d be able to hear him when he unlocked the door again. She was getting frustrated with the nail. It wasn’t going to work and she wanted to cry. She leaned her head against the window and heard the back door open, and then close. Did he go outside? She tiptoed back toward the door and listened. It was quiet. Looking back at the window, she knew she had no other choice. She picked up the lamp from the table and threw it at the window, breaking the glass. She jumped through it, cutting her hand in the process but she didn’t care. She was out and running as fast as she could through the woods. She had no idea where she was or where she was going, but she ran for her life. “Isabella! Stop!” Isabella heard him yelling for her but she kept running. She could hear him crashing through the woods behind her. She couldn’t let him catch her. She ran as fast as she could when she saw a clearing ahead, she prayed there was a road out there. Her side hurt from running, but she kept going. The clearing was getting closer. She screamed when he tackled her from behind. She fought as hard as she could. She tried to knee him in the groin, but he pinned her down, lying on top of her. So she pummeled him with her fists. “Stop it!” Colt grabbed her hands and held them above her head. She kept struggling, but he held her down. She was breathing painfully hard while he was barely out of breath. She

finally stopped and gazed up at him. A tear slid down her temple into her hair. “Please. Please…Colt. Let me go,” she pleaded with him. “He’s going to kill me. Please…” Her voice caught on a sob. “I can’t let you go, Bella. I can’t. If I could, I would…” He shook his head. “He’s going to kill me,” she cried, letting her tears flow freely. She wasn’t beyond begging. “I won’t let that happen. I can promise you that, but I can’t let you go.” Isabella stared at him. For some strange reason, she believed him. Her glance went to his mouth, and then back to his eyes. She frowned. “Your eyes are blue. I thought they were green.” “They change colors. They’re usually green. They change to dark green when I’m angry.” “And when they turn blue?” she asked. “I’m turned on,” he murmured, staring at her mouth. Isabella inhaled sharply, looking at his lips again. She heard him groan right before he lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers. She sighed when he deepened the kiss, stroking his tongue across her lips. She opened to him and his tongue slowly moved into her mouth. She wriggled her arms, and he released his hold. She wrapped them around his neck. Fingers of one hand moved into her hair while his other hand moved to her waist. It didn’t stay there long but slowly moved up to her breast. She moaned when he cupped it in his hand.

He pulled her shirt up and unhooked her bra, exposing her breasts. He groaned aloud as he gazed down at them. “Perfection,” he said before catching a nipple with his mouth. Isabella moaned at the pleasure he was creating. She ran her hands through his thick black hair. He nudged her knees apart, settling between them. She could feel his arousal against the apex of her thighs. He pressed into her, making her moan low in her throat. He moved his lips to her neck, teasing her skin with hot biting kisses then returned to her mouth, kissing her hard. She moved her tongue against his and he kissed her harder. A bird screeched in the distance. Colt raised his head and gazed down into her eyes. Isabella didn’t want him to stop but he sighed and moved off her. She lay there looking up into the trees, hating what she wanted to do with him. She knew it would feel this way with him and she couldn’t stop the tears from falling, not because of where she was or even why, but because she would never be able to be with this man. He made her want things she couldn’t have. She was ready to have sex with him right here in the woods lying on the ground. She’d lost herself so much in his kiss she’d forgotten everything else. **** Mont looked over at her and saw the tears. He stood and put a hand out to her. She shook her head, got up on her own, and brushed herself off. When he reached a hand out to brush

leaves from her hair, she pulled away from him and glared at him. “Don’t ever touch me again.” Her mouth flattened into a thin line. Mont clenched his jaw, took her elbow in his hand, and pulled her back toward the house. She tried to jerk her arm from him, but he held on tight. “You don’t have to drag me back. I’m not going to run again…yet.” Mont jerked her to a stop and shook her. “Do you have any idea what you did by breaking the window out? Barkley’s going to think I can’t keep an eye on you and probably have someone else do it. Do you know who’s next on his list? Blackman.” He shook her harder. “It was a stupid thing to do. You just cut your own throat. Come on.” He pulled her behind him. “I don’t want Blackman watching me,” she cried. Mont halted and pulled her into his arms. Her arms wrapped around his waist. “We’ll have to make something up. Once he sees the broken window, he’s going to go off.” They continued to the house and entered the kitchen and Colt had Isabella sit down. He got a cloth, wet it, and then applied it to the cut on her hand. It wasn’t deep, but he cleaned it and put a bandage on it. “I have to go outside to get something to cover the window. Do not try to run again or I’ll let Blackman watch you.” He went back outside and a few minutes later came back

carrying half a sheet of plywood and carried it to the bedroom and installed it over the bottom half of the broken window. **** Isabella watched him from the doorway. She knew she couldn’t run again, not for a while anyway. She would definitely try again, but Colt had caught her quickly so she’d have to plan for the next time. It would have to be when he was asleep or otherwise vulnerable. Any of the other men would’ve shot at her. She believed that with a fearful certainty. They wouldn’t have cared if they killed her or not. She shuddered at the thought. Either way it played out, if she died her parents would fall apart. If they got to her father and killed him, she and her mother would fall apart. They were a close-knit family and always had been. Her thoughts went to Harrison Washington, her father’s best friend and her godfather. Had he died from his gunshot wound? The only time she’d ever argued with her parents was when they’d suggested she marry Sean Jones. Now, she shook her head in despair, realizing she may never see him again. The thought hurt her. Even though she’d never been in love with him, it hurt to think she’d never see him again. Have him step on her toes while dancing. She smiled sadly. She wouldn’t even be able to make catty remarks to Rebecca ever again. She may never see Harrison again. She put her hand over her mouth to keep from crying out. Colt finished with the window then turned to look at her, shaking his head.

“I’ll tell him I broke it while we were arguing,” Colt told her. She exhaled. “And you think he’ll believe that?” He smiled at her. “He knows I have a temper. It won’t surprise him.” “You have a temper?” Maybe he had a bad side she hadn’t seen yet. He chuckled. “Yes. A bad one. I’ve broken things before, so…” He shrugged. “He’ll believe it. Just back me up. Although I really doubt he’ll ask you.” Isabella nodded her head. She watched him pick up the tools and head for the door. He turned to look at her and then pulled it closed behind him. She heard the lock turn. Moaning in resignation, she sat down on the bed. What was going to happen now? She was sitting on a time bomb and it was only a matter of time. Once they got her father, it would be over. All of it. The life she’d known, the life she could’ve had. Barkley would kill her father. She hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but knowing Barkley the way she did, she knew he’d kill her father simply because he was the one who put him away. Her father fought hard to have him put to death, but Barkley had made a deal. He got his reward for turning in the rest of his men. Life without the possibility of parole. She’d been disappointed with the sentence, but had accepted it. Now look where she was. If he hadn’t cut a deal, he’d be on death row. From there, she was sure he’d never have escaped.

She was still trying to believe Colt had helped him escape. Why? Why would he do that? Why was he involved with Barkley and these other men? She’d counted two others besides Barkley, Colt, and Blackman. That man, Blackman, definitely gave her the creeps. He’d rape her in a heartbeat. She felt sick. The thought of that man touching her…a shudder rushed over her skin. She sat on the bed and picked up the remote, turning the TV on where she saw her father talking to the camera. “I know it’s me you want, Barkley. I received the letter you sent. You want to trade me for my daughter. Well, the FBI will not allow this to happen, even though I would do it without a second thought, but it seems I can’t even go to the bathroom without being watched,” he said in sad voice. “The problems of being a politician. Please don’t hurt my daughter.” His voice cracked. “I’m sure we can work this out. I can wire you any amount of money anywhere you want it. Just please let me have my daughter back. Isabella, I love you honey. Your mom and I want you home and we are going to do everything we can to get you here.” He stepped away from the podium without answering any of the questions asked by the press. He looked terrible and Isabella suspected he probably hadn’t slept a wink since the night Barkley took her. Was it really only a day ago? It felt like an eternity to her. She turned the TV off, put her hands over her face, and sobbed. She wanted to go home.

Chapter Three

Two days later, Isabella sat in the bedroom looking at the television, but it held no interest for her. She sat up when she heard the lock turn. When the door opened, Barkley walked in. She was disappointed since she hadn’t seen much of Colt over the past couple of days. He seemed to be avoiding her. She’d heard him talking to someone yesterday, but couldn’t make out what he was saying since he’d spoken softly. She pulled her legs up to under her chin and glared at the man she hated more than anyone else. “Your father’s a stubborn man. He wants to give me money for you. I don’t want his fucking money. I want him! You’re going to call him for me. He’ll listen to you.” “I won’t talk to him,” she told him. Barkley smiled at her. “Yes you will. I have no problem killing you.” Isabella scrambled to her knees. “Then do it! You’ll get nothing, you son of a bitch. Do you think I’d do anything you want?” “I’ll kill your friend, Patsy Murphy, if you don’t,” he said in a low menacing voice. Isabella sat back on her haunches and gasped. How did he know about Patsy? She watched a sly grin cross his lips. “I know everything about you, Miss Lofton. From where you work to who your friends are. I even know who you have

sex with.” He shook his head. “Although it seems you haven’t had much of that lately.” She growled, launching herself at him, and tried to claw at his eyes. He jumped back just as Colt ran into the room and grabbed her around the waist, holding her back. Barkley let out a surprised laugh and looked at Colt with wide eyes. “Jesus Christ! You weren’t kidding when you said she has a mean streak, Raines.” Colt shrugged. “I told you she got me so pissed I threw the lamp and hit the window. Now do you believe me?” Barkley laughed. “I do. I know you have a hell of a temper and apparently, this little she-cat does too. You two are made for each other.” He headed out the door, closing it behind him. Isabella turned and glared at Colt. “Let go of me,” she said through clenched teeth. She hated both of them. She couldn’t let them hurt Patsy or anyone else, for that matter. “I know you hate me right now but I’m your best friend while you’re here. No one else is going to protect you like I will. Do you understand?” His voice was a whispered warning alongside her ear. **** Mont felt the fight go out of her when he asked if she understood her predicament, so he relaxed his arms from around her. She tilted her head forward and nodded. His heart ached for her and he hated how she was involved in this. He’d

told her the truth when he said he was her best friend while she was here. He could keep an eye on her and was hoping to convince Barkley not to kill her. Mont leaned his head against the back of hers. He felt her crying so he turned her in his arms and held her. She resisted at first, but eventually wrapped her arms around his waist and clung to him as she sobbed. He murmured soothing words against her hair but doubted she heard them over the sounds of her sorrow. He wanted to soothe her but wasn’t sure how. Isabella pulled back from him and looked up, blinking through spiked lashes. He kissed the tears from her eyes and cheeks. She cupped her hands around his face and kissed his lips. When he groaned her name, she pressed her lips to his again. Mont knew it was wrong, but he was unable to resist taking control. She moaned when he deepened the kiss, moving his tongue against hers. Her hands swept into his hair, grabbing fistfuls of it and pulling him tighter to her. His arms held her tightly to him as if he couldn’t get her close enough. He tore his lips from hers and buried his face in the silkiness of her neck. Nipping at the soft flesh, he almost smiled when she hissed in a breath. Isabella tilted her head back to give him better access and he took it. Her arms wrapped around his head, holding him close. Mont raised his head and looked down into those beautiful still moist eyes. He wanted to go on kissing her, but he stepped back, knowing he had to stop. She reached for his hand, but he pulled away. “You can’t kiss me like that and not want to help me,” Isabella said, giving him a pleading look.

“Is that why you kissed me? Thinking you could get me to help you?” Mont stared down at her. “I told you, I won’t help you.” “You kissed me back.” She glared at him, her eyes narrowing. He smiled. “Of course I kissed you back. You’re a beautiful woman. What man wouldn’t take what you’re offering? I’d take more of what you’re offering, but we’re not alone.” Isabella gasped with obvious indignation. “How dare you suggest that I wanted to—to…” “Have sex with me? You did, princess, and you’re a liar if you say different.” “Get out of here and leave me alone,” Isabella screamed at him with undisguised anger in her voice. Mont stared at her for a few seconds, shrugged, and then left the room, securely locking the door behind him. **** Barkley entered the room an hour or so later with a cell phone. Without a word, he handed it to her. She glared at him not taking it. He shoved at it again. He grinned and gave her a nod to call her father. She snatched the phone from his hand and dialed the number. She started crying when she heard her father’s voice. “Daddy…” she exclaimed, her voice catching on a sob.” Daddy, I love you.”

“Isabella! Sweetheart, please tell me you’re all right,” Barton Lofton pleaded his voice breaking over the words. “I’m not hurt. They haven’t hurt me. Daddy, Barkley wants me to tell you that he doesn’t want your money. He wants you.” She cried softly, not wanting her father to hear. “I know you can’t do it. He doesn’t understand.” She glared at Barkley. “He’s an idiot.” Barkley jerked the phone from her. “You know better than that, Lofton. I’m not stupid. You can kiss your daughter goodbye if you don’t get away from those assholes in the FBI and meet me.” “I’ll do what I can. Give me a few days and call me back. I’ll get away, but…please don’t hurt her.” Barkley laughed. “I knew you were smart. Otherwise, you’d have never put me in prison. I’ll call back in three days. You better have an idea or she’s dead.” He disconnected the call and glared at her. “Calling me names won’t help you at all. You’d better hope your precious daddy comes up with a plan or I will kill you.” “Better me than him.” Barkley laughed. “Don’t think I still won’t go after your family once you’re dead.” He strode from the room, slamming and locking the door. Isabella had to get out of there before her father tried to take her place. It was driving her crazy. She heard the other men leave so she knew it was just her and Colt again. He didn’t talk to her much at all. He’d bring her food and stay while she ate but after that, she didn’t see him. She was sitting

on the bed trying to figure out an escape when he entered the room with a bag. He set it on the bed. She looked at it, and then at him. She refused to speak first. She was a redhead and as a redhead, she could be hardheaded. Colt gave a huff. “Here are some clothes for you. There are several pairs of jeans, shirts, socks, underwear, and pajamas.” She perked up at the word underwear. She’d been washing out the same pair over and over since she’d arrived here. It was beginning to get embarrassing. She got up on her knees and opened the bag. She pulled out the clothes, blushing when she saw the boy-cut panties. She knew her face grew even redder when she pulled out three bras. She checked the sizes and her eyes widened when she saw they were her size. She glanced at Colt and raised an eyebrow. He gave her a cocky grin, making her blush harder, and left the room. Jumping off the bed as soon as the door closed, she ran for the bathroom. She showered and once dry, she put on new panties and a bra. They fit perfectly. She noticed how all of the panties were the boy-cut type. She wore others, but she supposed he got these because he’d seen her in them, assuming they were what she normally wore. It didn’t matter because she was so happy to have fresh ones it didn’t matter. She put the jeans on and one of the T-shirts. She walked out of the bathroom and knocked on her bedroom door. Colt immediately opened it. “Can I come out there with you?” she asked shyly, hoping he’d allow it. He nodded. “Do you like your new clothes?”

Isabella smiled her pleasure, and then thought of something. “How did you go get them?” He gave her a smug grin. “I didn’t. I had Smitty pick them up.” “Which one is Smitty?” She had hoped Colt picked out the clothes. “He’s the tall one. Dark hair,” Colt said with a shrug. She nodded her understanding. She knew which one he was. She’d learned to recognize all of them. Besides Colt, Barkley, Smitty, and Blackman, there was one other. He was very quiet and seemed to keep to himself. He was average height, slim and wore glasses. Including Colt, there were five of them all together. She wanted to be sure to know all of their faces. If she ever escaped, she wanted to be able to describe them all to a T. Isabella looked at Colt and blushed. She hoped she’d never have to describe him. It would be embarrassing because all she could say about him was that he was drop-dead gorgeous and sexy. She didn’t think the FBI would find that very helpful. She stifled the laughter threatening to bubble up. She was getting hysterical. She took a deep breath and took a seat at the kitchen table. “Could I make a sandwich?” “I’ll make it. What do you want?” She looked up at him feeling annoyed. “Why can’t I make my own sandwich?” He gave a slight smile. “Because, princess, I don’t want you to have access to a potential weapon that I may find stuck

in my back.” “Oh! I didn’t even think of that,” she told him, feigning innocence, and wishing she’d thought of it before him. Colt shook his head. “Me and my big mouth,” he grumbled, moving to gather ingredients. She watched as he made her a sandwich, and then made himself one before taking a seat at the table with her. She kept glancing at him. Why did he have to be on the wrong side of the law? She wished he wasn’t and had met him in some other way. She’d love to know him better. “What did you do before you became a criminal?” Colt set his sandwich down and looked at her, brushing breadcrumbs from his fingers. “It doesn’t matter, does it? I mean, I am what I am.” She







conversation.” He exhaled. “I went from job to job, okay? Anything else you want to know?” “I’d like to know things about you but you won’t tell me anything, so never mind.” She scowled and took a bite of her sandwich. “Do you like being an attorney?” His question surprised her. “How do you know I’m an attorney?” Colt grinned at her. “I know a lot about you. Before we did this…” He waved his hand at her. “I learned everything I could about the governor and his family.” He stared at her as if

trying to read her and she wasn’t sure she liked it. “Did you always want to be an attorney?” “No. At one time, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I love animals. I’ve always wanted to own a place with some acreage and take care of them.” She tilted her head looking at him. “Are you from Cheyenne?” “I was born and raised in Dry River. It’s a small community up north. Close to the Montana border.” “Do you still live there?” “Yes. I have a lot of friends there. I’ll head back there after…” Colt’s voice suddenly faded off and he glanced down at his plate. She frowned. He was hiding something. “Did Harrison Washington die?” Colt nodded. “Yes.” She choked back a harsh sob. “I loved him. He was my godfather and my dad’s best friend.” “I’m sorry, Bella.” Colt reached for her hand but she pulled back from him, and stood. “No you’re not. You may as well have pulled the trigger yourself. You’re all horrible men and I hope you all rot in hell for what you’ve done.” She had to suck in deep pulls of air as she stared at him because her chest felt so tight from the anger and despair she was feeling. Colt stood and faced her across the table. “I’m sure we will,” he told her in a low seemingly uncaring voice.

Isabella ran to her room and slammed the door. Almost immediately, the door flew open and hit against the wall. Colt stood in the doorway with his hands clenched into fists. “Your little tantrums are beginning to really get on my nerves. I’ve done everything I can to make you comfortable and yet you continue to have these hissy fits. Well, I’m sick of them!” “Oh my God! Are you serious? I’m here against my will! Why should I be pleasant? I want out of here and away from you,” she screamed at him. Colt moved toward her and stopped in front of her. “Really?” he growled. “You want away from me, do you?” He put his hands on her arms and pulled her toward him. She put her hands on his chest with the intent to push him away, but it was like pushing on a brick wall. He leaned his head in toward her, but she turned her face from him. He put his mouth to her neck. “Do you really, princess? Tell me you don’t want me,” he said against her neck, his breath hot against her skin. She moaned, and then bit it back. “Please…Colt.” “Please what, darlin’? Leave you alone?” She looked up at him and shook her head. “Please, kiss me,” she whispered. He pressed his lips to hers and did as she asked. Colt kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and sifted her fingers through his hair. He wrapped his arms around her waist and picked her up, carrying her to the bed where he laid her down on it before coming to rest on it beside her. His hand

slid under her T-shirt to her bra. He unhooked the front clasp, letting her breasts fall free. He lifted her shirt up over her head. She lay there naked from the waist up, feeling no embarrassment. “Bella, you’re so beautiful,” Colt told her before lowering his head to take a nipple into his mouth, the sound of her nickname a suddenly sweet endearment. She gasped with pleasure, clutching at his hair. He moved from one breast to the other while his hands worked to unsnap her jeans and lower the zipper. Her hand went to the hem of his shirt, pulling it over his head, and then she moved her hand down along his hard pecs and stomach, making the skin quiver. Unsnapping his jeans, her fingers slowly lowered the zipper. Her hand snaked inside and wrapped around his hard cock, making him hiss in a breath. He kissed her hard and deep, making her press against him. His hand moved inside her jeans, brushing the edge of the new panties before sliding inside and down between her legs. A hoarse moan escaped her lips when he ran his finger up and down her folds. Colt raised his lips from hers, hovering over them. “God, baby you’re so wet.” Then he captured her bottom lip between his teeth and tugged on it. Isabella moaned against his mouth while her hand squeezed the hard flesh resting in her palm. “I want you so much, Colt. Please.” “I will please you, princess. You can trust me on that.” ****

Mont pulled her jeans off, and then stood to remove his. This was wrong on so many levels, but he wasn’t turning back now. He couldn’t. He stood naked beside the bed. He watched as her eyes took in every inch of him. He wanted her desperately, and when she put her arms out to him, he gave in to her desire and his own, and lay back down beside her. He pressed his lips to hers as his hand moved over her breasts and down her flat stomach. Mont kissed her neck and moved to her breasts, where he sucked a nipple deep into his mouth, making it stiffen into a tight peak. Her moans were driving him insane as he kissed his way to her stomach, and then to the strip of curls where his tongue moved through them to her clitoris. Isabella grabbed fistfuls of his hair, tugging at his scalp urging him on. Wanting to bring her what she needed, he moved his tongue over her clitoris, and then put his mouth over it, rubbing his teeth against it gently, and then moving his tongue over it again. When he sucked on the swollen nub, she bent her knees, giving him better access. When he heard her start to breathe in harsh quick breaths, he knew she was close, and then she began to shake. “Colt,” she gasped out his name and her body shuddered as she came. Her thighs were still trembling when he slid between her legs and slowly inched into her. Isabella groaned out his name again. “Did I hurt you?” He looked down into her wide eyes. She gave him a blissful smile and shook her head. “No. You feel wonderful, so wonderful.”

Isabella wrapped her legs around his waist, making him groan when she thrust her hips up to meet his. Growling low in his throat, he thrust into her. He kissed her as he drove into her again. She kept perfect rhythm with him. His arms moved down behind her knees and he pulled himself up on to his knees, driving even deeper into her hot welcoming body. He felt her clenching around him and her eyes flew open wide. She reached for him. He leaned down over her, but stayed on his knees. He started moving faster and harder but she kept up with him. Isabella screamed his name at the same time he growled out hers. He kept pumping into her, and then finally collapsed on top of her. Both were spent and breathless. He placed his damp head just below her breasts and lay there for a while, feeling her heaving breaths, and listening to her pounding heart. He then moved to lie beside her and pulled her into his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder. He felt a drop of moisture fall onto his chest, and when her body started to shake with sobs, he raised his head to look at her. He knew why she was crying. At least he thought he did. If she felt the way he did, she knew it was something that shouldn’t have happened because there was no future for them. He couldn’t change that, and she knew it too. He kissed her gently, got up, and dressed in silence unable to look at her. Glancing toward the bed, Mont saw she’d pulled the blanket up over her, turned on her side, and was crying quietly. He swore silently when he realized he’d forgotten to use a condom. He left the room, closing the door behind him, and locked it. What had he done?

**** Isabella lay on her side and cried until she had no more energy left to shed another tear. She sat up and wiped her face with her hands. She had to get out of there. She couldn’t stay there any longer. She was so close to falling in love with Colt, a man most certainly on the wrong side of the law. A man who was running with the wrong crowd and who a murderer trusted as his secondhand man. She got off the bed and dressed. She’d get out of here tonight. Somehow. She was going to get out of here tonight and get back to her life in Oregon. Isabella had taken a position in Portland, Oregon with a small firm and she loved it there. She could walk down the street without people staring at her trying to figure out why she looked so familiar. No one there knew she was the Governor of Wyoming’s daughter. She had her own home, only keeping the condo in Cheyenne for when she visited her parents. Her life in Oregon was perfect. At least she’d thought so, until now. Now since she’d met Colt, she wasn’t sure. She never knew what was missing in her life until him. Another tear slid down her cheek and she angrily dashed it away. How could she have any more tears left? It was all she’d done since this disastrous event in her life started. Why did she have to meet Colt? There was no future for them at all. He’d go to prison when all of this was over, or worse, he’d end up dead. More tears rolled down her face when that horrible thought entered her mind. Dear God. It was very possible he’d die because of this. The FBI would do everything they could to find her and if people died in the

process, it was nothing to them. They’d do what they had to do to get her out of here safely. Sighing with more despair weighing on her heart, she stood and headed toward the bathroom to take a shower. Another long night was in front of her. **** Mont stood in the kitchen and ran his fingers anxiously through his hair. God damn it! He knew better. It shouldn’t have happened, and then to forget to use a condom. Idiot! He was no better than the other men who thought with their dicks instead of the big empty head on their shoulders. If Barkley found out, he’d kill him. He’d take Mont away from her and let Blackman watch her. He’d figure Mont couldn’t keep his head about him around her and damn it, he was right. All she had to do was look at him and he was lost. Maybe she knew that all along and had simply used him. Shit, that hurt! He was falling for her, and falling hard. He shook his head. He’d fallen before he’d even touched her. The first time he ever saw her picture, he was lost. He knew then that he wanted her. When Barkley brought her back to the house, Mont knew he’d have to be the one to watch her. Any of the other men would be all over her–well, except Smitty. Mont knew Smitty would never touch her. But Blackman and Dayton wouldn’t hesitate to take her. Just like you did.

No. He hadn’t raped her though. She’d been more than willing, and it had been amazing. In his thirty-two years, no woman had ever affected him in such a way. He almost came the minute he slid inside of her. She’d been so tight and so damn wet, he had to grab for control or embarrass himself. He felt his groin tighten just thinking about it. He needed to get out of the house for a while. He called Barkley. Two hours later, Barkley walked into the house and grinned at him. “Cabin fever, Raines?” Mont forced a laugh. “Something like that. I just need to go for a ride. Clear my head. Just give me a few hours.” Barkley laughed with him. “Sure. Go get on that bike of yours and clear the cobwebs. I’ll be here.” Mont nodded. Leaving the house, he headed for the garage. He straddled his Harley and started it, bringing it to life under him. After putting his helmet on, he tore out of the garage and headed down the dirt road which ran along in the front of the house. He could trust Barkley not to touch her. He grinned. Hell, Barkley probably wouldn’t even speak to her. **** Isabella sat in her room with the TV on. She looked toward the window when she heard what she thought sounded like a motorcycle starting up. She wished now she hadn’t busted the window. She could at least look out at the scenery. The top part of the window let the sun in. She hated not looking out. She loved the sunshine. The weather was getting warm and she’d love to be outdoors. Would she ever be out in the sun

again? She choked back a sob. She hated all the crying she’d done lately, but she was entitled since she was being held against her will and falling in love with a criminal. Just her luck. Was it possible to fall in love with someone in less than a week? She supposed the heart didn’t have a clock on it. There was no time limit when it came to love. Falling in love, or out of it. Why do you always pick the wrong men? The first man she fell in love with had been married and hadn’t told her. His wife had called her. Even then, he’d promised to divorce his wife and marry Isabella. She’d laughed in his face. How had she ever trusted him? He’d cheated on his wife with her so it was only reasonable that someday, he’d cheat on her with another woman. Then there was Billy in college. Billy had been her boyfriend, and they thought they were in love but when graduation rolled around, they both realized they weren’t. The last she’d heard, he had married a friend of hers a year later. It was true she’d been stupid about men and love. It had broken her heart, but it was nothing compared to what it was going to be like getting away from Colt, and then seeing him arrested for his part in this. She couldn’t understand it. He didn’t seem the type to do this sort of thing, but then she didn’t really know him. Just because he was gorgeous and nice didn’t mean he couldn’t be a criminal. Having sex with Colt had been a huge mistake, but she was unable to say no to it. Once he kissed her, she was lost. Never had she felt like that. She’d only been with two other men and sex with them had never been like this. This feeling was an all-consuming need. She

put her hands over her face trying to push the regret from her brain. Suddenly, the door opened, making her startle and her heart nearly jump from her chest. Turning and expecting Colt, she hid her disappointment. Barkley walked into the room. “Do you need anything? Something to eat or drink?” he asked her, glancing around the room. “Where’s Colt?” She was terrified being alone with him. Barkley grinned. “He’s gone. I’m here to keep an eye on you instead.” “What do you mean, gone?” Isabella prayed it wasn’t what she thought—permanent. Barkley strolled further into the room. She backed up until she bumped against the wall. He smiled smugly at her. “I don’t have to explain myself to you, Miss Lofton. Now, do you need anything or not?” She shook her head. Barkley gave her an impertinent nod and left the room, locking it behind him. What did he mean Colt was gone? How could he just leave without saying anything to her? Why should he say anything to you? He doesn’t care about you. He’s a criminal. Lord, it hurt that he hadn’t said anything to her, especially after what they’d shared. She snorted. It hadn’t meant anything to him. She should have realized that already, it was just sex for him. What was it to you, Isabella? Lovemaking? It was making love, not just sex—to her, anyway.

She took a seat on the bed. She’d never get out of here with Barkley watching her. She bit on her bottom lip. No more tears, please. She sniffed and felt the first tear roll down her cheek. It was better to hate Colt, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. She lay back on the bed and once more, cried herself to sleep. Sometime later, she didn’t know how long, Isabella jerked awake when the door to her bedroom flew open, slamming against the wall. She scrambled up against the headboard when she saw Blackman enter the room. She was petrified of this man. He grinned at her and closed the door behind him. He leaned back against the door and kept his eyes on her. “Where’s Barkley?” She did her best to keep the terror from her voice but it shook anyway. “He had somewhere to be, so he called me to come here and watch you. Do you have a problem with that?” He continued grinning, twisting his face. “You’d better not touch me. Barkley will kill you,” she exclaimed while moving to the other side of the bed. Blackman laughed and shrugged. “Then after I’m done with you, I’ll just have to kill you. I can make something up, I’m sure he’ll believe me. After all, he believed Raines about the broken window.” Isabella gasped. “Killing me is not what Barkley wants.” She had to reason with him if she wanted to survive. “I’ll tell him I didn’t have a choice.” He advanced toward the bed, shrugging as he came. “I’ll just tell him you tried to escape again.”

“I’ll scream…” She climbed off the bed, keeping it between them and poised her body to run or fight, whichever one it took to get away from this man. He laughed. “You can scream as loud as you want. No one will hear you out here. We’re miles away from anyone.” God, she felt ill. She’d fight to the death rather than let this man touch her. He moved closer to the bed. She was going to go the opposite way of him. He put his knee on the bed, she moved to the end of the bed. He put his foot down, she moved back to the other side. He sighed with frustration. “I’ll have you, Ginger. One way or the other.” No one called her Ginger. She thought of Colt calling her princess. Suddenly, that didn’t bother her at all. In fact, it was growing on her just like him calling her Bella. But to have this…this pig call her Ginger infuriated her. Hating the name and hating him, she glared at him. He laughed and flew across the bed. She ran, but he caught her by the hair. She screamed at the pain, but swung around and tried to knee him. “I won’t fall for that again, bitch!” Blackman laughed and dragged her to the bed, throwing her down on it. She fought him and raked her nails down his face. He yelled and slapped her. She tasted blood when her lip slammed against her teeth. He got her under him and straddled her. He placed her hands above her head but she bucked under him. He continued to laugh as he leaned down and tried to kiss her. She spit in his face. He slapped her again, and when he put his face in her neck, she screamed. He sat up and ripped her shirt open,

exposing her bra. He pulled a knife from his pocket, snapping it open and placing the tip to her neck. Slowly, he traced the tip down her chest to her bra. He put it between her breasts and cut the bra open exposing her breasts to his greedy gaze. He looked at them and smiled. “You’ve got some nice tits, Ginger.” He lowered his head and sucked a nipple into his mouth. He pulled hard on it causing pain rather than pleasure. She bucked hard under him trying to unseat him. “Wait till I’m fucking you before you do that,” he growled against her flesh. Isabella felt like she was going to pass out, but she knew she had to keep her wits about her. She needed a new tactic fast. “Go for it, big boy. If you think you can satisfy me like Colt did, go right ahead.” Blackman lifted his head, stared down at her, and then laughed. “You’re not going to get me to believe that. Colt would never do it. His head is too far up Barkley’s ass.” Isabella laughed a high-pitched sound. Hysteria was taking over, and she knew she had to calm down. He moved his hand to the zipper on her jeans and yanked it down. He moved off her enough to pull her jeans lower. She tried to kick at him, which wasn’t an easy task with her jeans around her knees. The more she struggled, the more he laughed. After pulling them off, he threw her jeans down on the floor. He stared at her boy-cut panties. Isabella was sure he was drooling. He grabbed them with one hand and ripped them off

her. She screamed again. He raised his hand to hit her and she flinched closing her eyes against the pain. He laughed again. Holding her still, he lifted himself off her enough to unzip his pants. Dear God! Please, no. Don’t let this happen…please! Isabella prayed as she’d never prayed before. She looked down at him and watched as he maneuvered his pants and underwear down over his erection. She started laughing. Perhaps it was hysteria, but he stopped and looked at her. When she dropped her gaze to his penis and laughed, he growled and hit her again without warning. This time, he hit her so hard she almost passed out. She lay there moaning when she felt him covering her body with his. She was going to lose consciousness, but then maybe that was a blessing. No. This wasn’t going to happen. She shook the fog from her head and began to fight him again. “God damn it! Stop it,” he told her through clenched teeth. Isabella refused to let him do this to her. She fought as hard as she could. Somehow, she managed to get her leg between his and raising her knee, she took aim but he moved too quickly, and jerked to the side. Blackman hit her again and she fell back on the bed, shaken and feeling defeated. He spread her legs with his knees and was about to push himself inside her when suddenly his weight disappeared as if someone had jerked him off her.

Chapter Four

Mont’s fist connected hard on Blackman’s chin, knocking him to the floor. He launched himself down on the man and proceeded to pummel his face. Blackman regained some of his composure and started fighting back. He caught Mont in the jaw, knocking him back. Blackman got up quickly, pulling up his pants and closing his zipper. Mont charged at him and caught him around the waist, knocking them both to the floor. Blackman rolled with unexpected ease, putting Mont beneath and enabling the man to straddle him. “I’m going to fuck this bitch after I kill you,” Blackman growled with a sadistic laugh. He pulled his knife again, snapping it open and raising it to plunge it into Mont, but Mont reacted fast, catching the man’s arm, and holding it aloft. Both men struggled to better the other. Soon Mont got the momentum to roll Blackman over, putting the knife between them. Blackman got the better of him for a moment, and Mont hissed in a breath when the knife tip entered his left shoulder. Blackman pulled it out and tried to plunge it in again, but Mont stopped him only the pain in his shoulder was making everything blurry. He shook his head

quickly and threw a punch at Blackman’s face, landing it hard. Blackman fell away, dropping the knife. Mont pounced on it, grabbing it in a tight hold and then plunging it into Blackman’s heart. Blackman froze, a stunned expression covering his face as he grunted. Mont heard the last breath leave Blackman’s body in a wheeze. Mont crawled off him and sat on the floor breathing hard. His shoulder was bleeding profusely. He glanced over to the bed and saw Isabella lying there. He pulled himself up off the floor and went to her. She had a blank look on her face and her eyes looked glassy. He tapped at her face lightly careful not to touch the bright red marks where Blackman had obviously hit her. She suddenly screamed and tried to fight him, but he wrapped his arms around her. “Isabella! Hey, Bella, it’s me,” Mont yelled in her face. She stopped struggling and looked at him with glazed eyes. When she finally realized she was safe and that he wasn’t Blackman, she let out a cry and threw her arms around him. “You left me…you left me,” Isabella cried against his neck. “No, darlin’, I didn’t leave you. I just went for a ride. Barkley was supposed to stay here to watch you. I’m sorry, so sorry.” He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly against him. Isabella looked up at him. “Barkley was here. But, then Blackman came in…” She began to tremble in his arms. “He tried to—tried to…” She suddenly pushed herself away from him and ran for the bathroom.

Mont followed her and stood in the doorway while she vomited. She fell down beside the toilet. He moved to help her up, handing her a towel. Her torn shirt and bra hung on her. Her breasts bore red marks that angered him. He saw her eyes shift, taking in his wounded shoulder. “Oh, my God! Colt, you’re bleeding.” She pulled away from him to get a clean towel. He tried to grin at her, seeming to be oblivious to her nakedness. “I’ll be fine. It’s not that—” Dizziness suddenly overwhelmed him, and he fell back against the doorjamb and started to slide down the wall. Isabella caught him with a groan and helped him to the bed, where he collapsed onto it. She finally noticed her state of undress and tossed off the torn clothes and pulled on fresh ones then disappeared into the bathroom, returning with a washcloth to clean up the blood. She pulled his shirt up and he watched her go pale. He knew the wound was bleeding a lot but had hoped it wasn’t too severe. She pressed the cloth to it trying to stop the flow, and after a few minutes, the bleeding finally slowed. She disappeared into the bathroom again, this time returning with gauze, and applied it to his wound. When she finished, she stood there looking at him, and then glanced to the floor where Blackman lay dead. She walked over to him and kicked him, and then she continued to kick him, over, and over again. “He’s dead, Bella. He’s not feeling a thing,” Mont said in a slurred voice. “He may not be feeling anything, but I am. I’m feeling damned good with every kick.” She kicked him one more time

before turning back to the bed to gaze down at Mont. He was losing consciousness but he saw her glance toward the door. He knew what she was thinking. This was her chance. The door to the bedroom was open. All she had to do was walk out of it. She started toward the door. “Don’t do it, princess. I’ll come after you.” Isabella walked back to the bed and stared at him, her hands on her hips. “You’re in no condition to come after me. I’m walking out of here, Colt, and you can’t stop me.” “Bella, please, I need you to take care of me. I could bleed to death,” he said with a grimace while trying to pull himself up on his elbow. She blew out an aggravated breath. “You’re not going to bleed to death. It’s not even bleeding anymore, Colt.” “I will come after you,” he said gazing up at her. “I saved you, doesn’t that count?” Isabella leaned down and pressed her lips to his mouth. “Goodbye, Colt,” she said on a sob, moved toward the door, and then turned to look back at him. Mont struggled to get up. He knew he had to stop her. “Barkley will kill me…” he said with a loud groan before falling back onto the bed. **** Isabella cursed under her breath. She knew Colt was telling the truth. Barkley would kill Colt because Blackman was dead,

and she was gone. With a loud exhalation of resignation, she walked back to the bed and took a seat next to Colt. She brushed unruly hair back from his damp forehead. It was something she’d wanted to do since that first night he spent sleeping in the chair against the wall. Colt suddenly grasped her hand and held on to it. His eyes opened and he stared up at her. His green eyes suddenly glazed over with pain. Damn it! She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t walk out. She was a fool but she nodded at him. With relief relaxing him, he closed his eyes. She lay down beside him, wrapping her arm around him, and soon they both fell asleep. Isabella woke to the sensation of something wet on her arm. Glancing at Colt, she saw his shoulder was bleeding again. Her arm had been laying over it. She hurried to the bathroom to get some more towels and gauze. She pulled back the soaked gauze and saw the wound was weeping a lot of blood. She realized he needed stitches. He needed to go to a hospital. “Colt.” She shook him lightly making him moan. “Colt, you need to wake up. You’re bleeding again.” He opened his eyes and stared up at her blinking. “Am I dead?” She smiled and tried not to laugh. “No, you’re not dead. But you might be, if we don’t get you to a hospital.” He shook his head, groaning as he reached into his jeans, and pulling out his cell phone. He dialed a number and told

someone to get here as soon as possible. After hanging up, he closed his eyes in a cringe. She knew he was in pain. “Princess, could you find me some aspirin?” “Aspirin? Are you serious? You have a stab wound, not a damn headache.” She jumped off the bed and stared down at him. “Just find me some, please,” Colt pleaded closing his eyes again. She took a deep breath and blew it out. She returned to the bathroom to search for something resembling aspirin but came up empty, so she headed for the kitchen. She found some aspirin there, filled a glass with water, and headed back to Colt. She helped him sit up, handing him the aspirin, and holding the glass to his lips. He swallowed the pills and lay down, closing his eyes. He reached for her hand, lacing his fingers through hers, and she held tight. Forty-five minutes later, Smitty arrived. He took one look at Colt on the bed then Blackman lying on the floor, and raised an eyebrow at Isabella. She shrugged. He moved toward the bed and shook Colt. “What the fuck happened?” he asked when Colt opened his eyes. Colt explained what happened. Smitty looked at Isabella. “I’m sorry Blackman did that to you. He always was a son of a bitch.” Smitty left the room but returned a few minutes later with a black box. He set it on the bed and opened it. Isabella glanced over his shoulder and whistled when she saw the syringes,

gauze, tape, and medications. She looked up at Smitty, but he was too busy to notice her. He removed the bloody gauze from Colt’s wound, gave him a shot of something, and irrigated the wound. He then took a thread of some sort and a curved needle from the box, and went about stitching Colt up. He gave Colt another shot then shook out a pill from a bottle, and told Colt to take it. “I don’t need anything for pain,” Colt tried to tell him. “Just shut the hell up and take it. I already gave you a shot for the pain, but the pill will help too. Be macho some other fucking time.” Colt smiled and took the pill. Smitty closed up the box and took it back out to his car. When he came back in, he stared at her as if trying to figure her out. “Why didn’t you run?” Isabella lowered her eyes looking to the floor. She’d asked herself the same question several times. Smitty lifted her chin so she was looking into his eyes and shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, Isabella, don’t fall in love with him,” he muttered in a low voice. “Too late,” she whispered, glancing away. Smitty shook his head, looked down at Blackman, and then back to Isabella. “I need to call Barkley about this. We’ll just tell him the truth, not much sense in lying about it. He’d warned us all not to try anything with you.” She nodded and listened as Smitty spoke to Barkley on the phone. When he hung up, he looked at her and shook his head again, and then smiled at her.

“He’s shocked you didn’t run too, but I told him you were too shook up to even think about it. I hope to hell you know what you’re doing.” Did she? She’d had a chance to escape and she hadn’t taken it. She looked at Colt lying there on the bed. She was a fool. She’d fallen in love with a man who, in all likelihood, would go to prison if he survived at all. She’d never see him again. She just hoped she’d get another chance to get out of here. Maybe Colt would help her now. No, she knew he wouldn’t. He was too loyal to Barkley. For some unknown reason, she knew he would never betray Barkley. She glanced at Smitty. “I have no idea what I’m doing. You’re right. I should’ve run. I had the chance and I blew it.” Smitty nodded. “Yeah, you sure did. You could’ve been long gone before any of us would’ve known.” “He tried to get up and come after me. I—I had to get him to lie back down. He was bleeding so badly,” she explained, shrugging her shoulders and squeezing Colt’s hand. “Barkley’s on his way here. Just tell him exactly what happened. I wouldn’t tell him you had a chance to run and didn’t take it, though. He’ll figure out how you feel about Colt and that wouldn’t go well for either of you. Just let him think you were too shook up to run.” He glared at her. “It really wouldn’t be good if he figures out how you feel about him. He’ll think it will be too easy for you to persuade Colt to help you escape.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “He won’t, Miss Lofton. I can promise you that. Colt will not help you.”

Isabella looked at him with tears in her eyes, nodding her head. “I know he won’t.” “Quit talking about me like I’m not here,” Colt said from the bed. Both Smitty and Isabella glanced over to him. Smitty moved closer to the bed. “Why aren’t you knocked out? I gave you enough to knock an elephant out.” Colt gave them a goofy grin. “I’m tougher than an elephant.” Smitty chuckled. “Hell right you are. More hardheaded too.” Colt sobered and squinted at Smitty. “Barkley on the way?” Smitty nodded and went on to explain to Colt that Isabella wouldn’t let Barkley know she’d had a chance to run. It was better he didn’t know, Smitty told him, and Colt nodded in agreement. He glanced at her from under black lashes, making her blush and look away. She may be a fool where he was concerned, but she refused to let him see how she’d gone and fallen in love with him. He’d never love her and even if he did, there was no future for them. Her family would have a fit if they knew she’d fallen in love with her captor. They’d try to convince her it was Stockholm syndrome and nothing else. She knew better. She was twenty-six years old. She knew what love was. She just didn’t know how to fall in love with the right man. She took a seat in the chair by the bed, watching Colt and Smitty as they talked in low voices. They seemed to be close,

like they were good friends. Smitty was close to Colt’s height, and just as muscular as Colt. In fact, he was actually very good-looking. He had dark brown hair that was a little too long but pretty, dark brown eyes. They both shifted their eyes, glancing in her direction, but she turned away from them. She wondered what they were saying about her. Probably how big of a fool she’d been to think Colt would actually try to run after her in his condition. It wasn’t what stopped her. It was his saying Barkley would kill him. That, she’d believed. With Blackman lying there dead and her gone, Barkley wouldn’t believe Colt for a minute. He would kill him. She couldn’t let that happen. Colt had promised her he wouldn’t let Barkley kill her, so she couldn’t let Barkley kill him either. However, it didn’t mean she wouldn’t try to run again. She had to and she had to do it before her father made the mistake of meeting with Barkley, because she knew Barkley would kill her father. She had to get away and get home—one way or another. It wasn’t very long before Barkley walked into the bedroom. He looked down at Blackman on the floor. He frowned in disgust, and then looked to Smitty. “Get him out of here. Take him somewhere and bury him. Dayton, go with him.” Barkley looked at the fifth man of the group. Isabella shivered at the thought of the man buried in an unmarked grave in the woods somewhere, even if he was a bastard who’d tried to rape her. Barkley stared at her. “He knew better than to try that with you, Miss Lofton. He was an idiot.” He walked over to Colt. “You okay?”

Colt nodded. “I had to kill him, Jonas, he tried to kill me.” He shrugged, cringing in pain at the action. Barkley patted Colt’s good shoulder. “I know. You did what you had to do, Raines. Don’t let it bother you. He asked for it.” He glanced at Smitty. “You’ll keep an eye on her until Colt’s better.” “I’m fine. I can watch her,” Colt told him trying to sit up. Barkley waved him back down. “You need to heal. I’m going to need you when I meet with Lofton. I’m calling him tomorrow. I want you to go with me.” Colt nodded and scowled. Isabella watched him, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. Smitty and Dayton lifted Blackman’s body and carried it out. Suddenly her stomach roiled. All this murder going on around her was making her physically sick. She ran to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. **** Barkley cocked an eyebrow at Mont and chuckled. “Some people just can’t take it, I guess.” Mont gave a nod, looking to the door, and then back to Barkley. “He’d almost done it. If I hadn’t gotten here when I did, he would’ve raped and killed her.” “I don’t like that rape shit. No man should rape a woman, but killing her would’ve helped with some of our problems.” Barkley strode from the room, not seeing the angry, murderous scowl Mont threw his way.

Mont couldn’t believe she’d stayed when she had the perfect opportunity to run and get away. Isabella would have had a good head start on them. No one was due to come back to the house until tomorrow. She would have been long gone and by the time he woke up, it would be too late to try to find her. He knew without a doubt Barkley would have killed him. Barkley trusted Mont but with Blackman dead and her gone, there was no one to tell what had actually happened. The number of people Barkley trusted would fit on one hand and Mont was one of them, but he wasn’t sure Barkley would have believed him about Blackman if Isabella hadn’t stuck around. Knowing the man’s mistrust of most people, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for him to believe Mont killed Blackman to allow her to escape. Mont watched Isabella reenter the bedroom and take a seat in the chair by the door of the bathroom. “Are you all right?” he asked. Isabella nodded. “I thought I was going to be sick, but I’m fine.” Her eyes narrowed with questioning concern. “How are you feeling?” “Drowsy. I don’t know what Smitty gave me but it’s starting to kick my ass,” he said, hearing the slur in his voice. “Did Barkley leave?” “Not yet. He’ll be here until Smitty gets back, so don’t think of trying anything. He will kill you, Bella.” “I know,” she replied with a frown, pulling her eyebrows together.

Mont reached his hand out toward her. “Come here and lie down beside me.” He saw her glance toward the door. “Don’t worry. Barkley won’t come in. As soon as Smitty gets back, he’ll head out.” Isabella stood. She moved hesitantly toward the bed, stopping at the edge, and then climbed on, curling in against him. He heard her exhale a deep breath as he wrapped his arm around her before giving into the drug Smitty gave him. **** Three days later, Mont was in better shape and able to move around with more ease. He hated that he had to leave Isabella, but he trusted Smitty to keep her safe. He sat at the kitchen table waiting for Barkley to send for him. Once the governor got away, he knew Barkley would call for him and together they’d go meet with Barton Lofton. Smitty sat at the table with him. “I won’t let anything happen to her,” Smitty told Mont, giving him confidence. “I know. It bothers me about why all of a sudden Barkley wants me with him during a job. That wasn’t part of the deal when we decided to work together.” Mont shook his head, getting a bad feeling about how things were starting to go down. “I told him I would do my part from the inside. But suddenly, he wants me to go with him. I don’t like it.” “You don’t have a choice about it. We all do what Barkley wants. You know I’d rather go, but he wants you there,” Smitty said with a shrug.

“I’m not a killer, Smitty—unless I have no other choice.” His eyes met Smitty’s brown ones and knew he was thinking of Blackman too. Smitty reached out and squeezed Mont’s arm. “I know that but as I said, we do what he wants. No questions asked.” Mont suddenly pushed away from the table and got to his feet. “Well, I’m going to ask him. This changes our deal. I don’t like it,” he repeated. Just then, his cell phone rang. He knew who it was and answered it. After listening for a few minutes, he hung up. “This is it,” he told Smitty, who pressed back in his chair in a tense gesture. Mont walked to the bedroom where Isabella was, unlocking the door and slipping into the room. She was sitting on the bed, only glancing at him as he stood there. God, she was so beautiful he had trouble breathing around her and he truly wished he could get her out of here. “I’m leaving, princess. I just wanted to let you know Smitty’s going to be here. He won’t lay a hand on you, I promise. I trust him. You can too.” Isabella snorted. “I can’t trust any of you,” she exclaimed turning away from him. He watched her for a few seconds, and then sighed. He closed the door behind him, locked it, and returned to the kitchen. “I’ll call you later. Seriously, keep an eye on her. She’s not going to hesitate to run again.” “Again?” Smitty raised an eyebrow.

Mont’s mouth twitched. “I didn’t say that.” Smitty grinned at him. “Threw the lamp at the window, huh?” Mont burst out laughing. Smitty laughed with him then pushed out of his chair, moving close to Mont where he slapped him on the back. “Be careful.” Mont nodded and left by the back door. He climbed on his motorcycle and started it up. With a last glance at the house, he drove away down the road. **** Isabella heard a motorcycle start up and knew it must be Colt. It sounded like the same one she’d heard the day Blackman almost raped her. She’d started feeling better since then, but Colt was keeping his distance, only checking in on her regularly. He brought her food or asked if she needed anything, but hadn’t touched her. Her lip had healed and the bruises on her cheeks were fading, but it still hurt to touch them. She wanted to feel his arms around her again. Experience his kiss and his lovemaking. She choked back a sob. Her predicament was killing her. She needed to escape and get free of Barkley, but leaving Colt was tearing her heart out. She also knew that his leaving today meant he was meeting with Barkley to go after her father. She felt so helpless. Placing her hands over her face, she began to cry. They were going to kill her father and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. She fell back on the bed and sobbed so hard her chest hurt.

Please, God. Don’t let anything happen to my father. “Please,” she whispered her prayer. She was so tired. Her ordeal was going on two weeks, and honestly, other than the incident with Blackman, no one had mistreated her. Even Barkley was civil to her. Colt and Smitty talked nicely to her, but Dayton didn’t speak at all. She knew tonight had to be the night to go. She wasn’t sure how yet, but it had to be tonight. **** Mont drove the bike up to the entrance to the warehouse and shut it off. He swung his leg over, removed his helmet, squared his shoulders, and walked inside. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw Barkley sitting at a large table with five other men seated there with him. He waved for Mont to join them. Mont walked toward the table, keeping his eyes on the other men. He stopped near the table and raised an eyebrow at Barkley. “These are the men I wanted you to meet, Raines. These are the guys I told you about when we were inside. My outside men,” Barkley told him. Mont barely hid his surprise. Finally, he was meeting the men who pulled off Barkley’s orders from prison. Barkley had told him about them. They did all the work while he sat in a cell. Barkley smiled at him. “I told you I’d get them all together and you’d meet them.”

Mont glared at him, folding his arms across this chest. “Took you long enough, though.” Barkley looked surprised, but then burst out laughing. The other men started laughing too. Barkley looked around the table. “I told you he was a smart-ass.” Mont smiled even as he wanted to punch Barkley’s face. He pulled out a chair, taking a seat at the table. This was what he’d been waiting on from the beginning. To be a part of this, he was on the inside. He looked at the five men at the table. He knew some of their faces, but he waited for introductions. He glanced over to Barkley. “Colt, let me introduce John Pollard, Stewart Rodgers, Jack Lewis, Henry Gentry and last but not least, Dylan Long. Men, this is Colt Raines. I’ve been telling you about him since the day I met him in prison. He was in the cell next to mine and I knew the day they threw him in there, we were going to get along great.” Barkley laughed. “He punched one of the guards in the face and broke his nose.” Barkley slapped Mont on the back. “That man went down like a ton of bricks. The other guards had to beat the shit outta Colt before they were able to control him.” The men at the table all looked at Mont. All but one smiled. Stewart Rodgers didn’t find any of it amusing. One side of Mont’s mouth lifted. He wanted Rodgers to know he didn’t give a shit whether he liked him or not. Rodgers glared at him, but Mont didn’t care whether Rodgers accepted him or not. He wasn’t here to make lifelong friends. All he cared about was getting in with these men.

“So just what have you men been up to? What have you been taking care of for Jonas while he’s been away?” Barkley let out a bark of laughter. “This is why he’s my new right-hand man. He takes care of me.” He looked over at Henry Gentry. “Tell him.” Gentry hesitated but after a go-ahead look from Barkley, he began talking. “We’ve done two kidnappings, starting with the mayor’s son. He’s seven and was an easy pick- up. We know the mayor comes from money and his son means the world to him so he’ll pay whatever we want. The other one was Gavin Brown. His wife is the one with the money. We’ve contacted her and she’ll pay anything to have her hubby back.” He shrugged. “Two easy pickings and a helluva lot of money.” Gentry stared at Mont and when he didn’t interject, Gentry continued. “We’ve been working on these cases for a few months. We didn’t just want to go into it without doing our homework.” Gentry continued to watch Mont as if waiting for him to say something about how long they took planning the kidnappings. When Mont didn’t say anything, Gentry cleared his throat. “We figure kidnapping is easier than robbing banks. No chance of one of those God damn money bags exploding.” He grinned but Mont didn’t crack a smile but just stared back at him. Barkley laughed. “See, Colt. These men have been taking care of business for me. They’ve killed a few people, too. I told them to do whatever they had to do. The kid’s bodyguard got in the way and Brown’s gardener tried to stop them from taking him.” He

shrugged shaking his head. “The God damned gardener, for Christ’s sake.” “Where are they?” Mont asked in as calm a voice as he could muster. Gentry started and glanced at Barkley. “Why does he need to know where they are?” Barkley stood, leaning his hands heavy on the table, and glared at Gentry. “‘Cause I said so, that’s why. He’s to know everything I know. You got that?” He looked at each man around the table. “All of you understand that?” All the men nodded. Gentry cleared his throat, and smirked at Mont. “Closer than you think.” Mont raised an eyebrow at him and waited. Gentry rolled his eyes. He probably thought Mont had no sense of humor, whatsoever. “They’re in the back room.” He nodded toward a closed door over his shoulder. Mont looked to Barkley. “So this meeting had nothing to do with Lofton?” Barkley bared his teeth in a growl. “That son of a bitch hasn’t been able to get away. So he says, anyway.” “He’s probably telling the truth. The FBI and any other kind of protection they could bring in are probably surrounding him. Give him time. You have his daughter and he’ll do anything to get her back.”

Barkley agreed and looked at the other men. “When’s the money coming from the other two in the back?” The conversation soon centered on the phone calls they were going to make and figuring where to have the drop-offs for the money.

Chapter Five

Isabella lay still as if asleep when she heard the door open. She didn’t answer when Smitty softly spoke her name. When she heard the door close again, she rolled over, glancing toward it. Smitty had left. He hadn’t stayed in the room. She exhaled in relief. She had no idea if he planned to sleep in the room with her or not, though. Of course, there was no one else in the house so he had no worry of one of the men trying to get to her. He would probably sleep in one of the other bedrooms. She hoped. She climbed from the bed and went to the window. She looked over the piece of wood covering the bottom half. How was she going to get the board down without making noise? She glanced around the room, her gaze landing on the chair sitting by the bathroom door. The same chair Colt slept in the first night she was there. She crossed over to it and slowly began pulling it away from the wall. It was lighter than it looked. She scooted it over to the window. Anytime she thought she’d made too loud of a noise, she’d stop and hold her breath. Smitty wouldn’t hesitate to charge into the room if he thought she were up to no good. She finally got the chair to the window. Climbing onto it, she peeked over the wood to the outside world.

The sun was beginning to set. Isabella hated the thought of going out into the night, but she had no choice. Although it was spring, the nights in Wyoming were still cold so she’d made sure she had socks on and as a last minute thought, she put her pajama bottoms on under her jeans. She started to pull on the top of the wood, working the nails loose. She wiggled it back and forth on the nails. She knew she had to do it slowly, all the while praying Smitty didn’t come in to check on her. She was scared to death. She placed her hands at the top of the board and pulled with all her might. The board creaked as she pulled on it but soon it was sliding along the nails, working them loose. She moved her hands down the sides of it and pulled at it. If she could get all three sides loose, one good pull could do it. She jerked it as hard as she could and the board came away from the window. She almost fell, but caught herself. She wanted to shout for joy. Isabella had just begun moving the chair away from the window when suddenly she heard the lock on the door turning. She scrambled as fast as she could and no longer cared how much noise she made, she was going to succeed. She gave the chair a final push away from the window and began crawling through the window. She had one leg out when she heard Smitty yell her name, and then felt him grab her ankle. She kicked at him, but he was stronger. He pulled her back inside the window and tossed her toward the bed. She scrambled across the bed and ran for the door. She made it clear to the kitchen before Smitty grabbed her around the waist. She pushed and screamed at him but he paid no mind, continuing to hold on to her. Spotting a platter on the table, she reached for it, turned in his arms, and slammed the

heavy ceramic down on the top of his head. She saw in his eyes that she’d dazed him. His grip loosened and she pushed at him hard enough to get away from him. He stumbled backwards and she ran for the door. She made it outside and for a moment, she had no idea which way to go. The front of the house had a gravel road running in both directions in front of it. Heading in either direction looked like a long trek. Woods filled the area behind the house as well as across the road. She just picked a direction and ran. She heard Smitty yelling her name, but she ran as fast as she could. She didn’t look back as she headed into the woods. She figured she could hide until she figured out what to do. Isabella heard him yelling and he seemed to be coming closer so she stopped and squatted down. She had to be quiet. If she kept running, he’d be able to hear what direction she was heading. She stayed so quiet, she barely breathed. She was so scared that every inch of her was trembling making her ache. She could hear him moving through the woods. “Isabella! Come out here. Come on. You’re not helping your dad by doing this.” It didn’t surprise her he would use whatever persuasion he could think of to get her to return. Barkley wasn’t going to be happy. Isabella sat stock-still. She wasn’t going to listen to anything anyone had to say anymore. She was free and she planned to stay that way. She was going to get home and help the FBI find these men. Her heart ached when she thought of Colt’s arrest, but he was one of the bad guys. He was a criminal with whom she’d foolishly fallen in love.

She heard Smitty walking away from her and smiled. He was giving up. He couldn’t find her. It was going to be dark soon so it was best she stay where she was. It was too easy for her to get lost in the dark. Once the sun came up, she would start moving again. Sitting back against the tree, she tried to get comfortable but she couldn’t fall asleep. There was always a chance Smitty might come back out with a flashlight, and continue looking for her. **** Mont’s cell phone buzzed. He moved away from the table and answered it. Listening, his gaze quickly glanced around the table of men. He cursed under his breath. “I told you to keep an eye on her,” he whispered into the phone. “Shit, I did! She’s smart. Now she’s out in the woods and I can’t fucking find her,” Smitty told him. “God damn it,” Mont hissed, his jaw clenching. “Something wrong, Raines?” Barkley asked, his voice filled with curiosity. “No. I just need to go and get some shit done before heading back to the house. My old lady’s bitching about me not being around for a while,” he responded with a forced smile as he hung up the phone. Barkley laughed. “Well, hell man, go get some of your woman. I’ll see you at the house tomorrow sometime.”

Mont nodded and without a word to any of the men, he walked outside. Straddling his bike, he lifted his helmet to put it on. He saw Dylan Long had followed him outside. Mont narrowed his eyes at the man, and waited. “I don’t trust you, Raines. You may have Barkley fooled, but something’s just not right. It’ll come out though, and if you’re fucking with any of us, I’ll take great pleasure in killing you.” Mont gave him a smug smile. “I don’t give a shit if you trust me, or not. Hell, I don’t trust you…any of you.” He put his helmet on and started up the bike. He gave Long one more glance, flipped down his visor, revved the bike and spun gravel as he tore out of the parking lot. He knew Long was staring after him and hoped the guy wasn’t going to be trouble. **** Isabella was so cold. She kept rubbing her arms, but it wasn’t helping and she knew it was going to get even colder before morning. With the sun down and no protection from the cold, damp ground, she was going to be freezing before first light. She kept an eye on the surrounding area. At one time, she’d seen a beam of light. She figured it was Smitty looking for her. He didn’t get close to her though. Her teeth began to chatter and her jaw ached trying to stop it. She heard a noise and literally, stopped breathing. Were there bears out here? Mountain lions?

You couldn’t have thought of this before deciding to head into the woods? She leaned forward and picked up a large stick. It wouldn’t be much protection from either animal, but it might scare them enough to leave her alone. Her bottom was getting sore, so she slowly slid up along the tree and leaned there. She heard a twig snap behind her and spun around. All she could see was blackness. The moon was full but since she was deep in the woods, it wasn’t helping her at all. She looked up at the tree. Too bad she couldn’t climb it. It didn’t matter though, because mountain lions climb too. Isabella knew she had to quit thinking like this or she’d drive herself crazy. She whipped her head around in the other direction when she heard another twig snap. She was beginning to shake uncontrollably and it wasn’t from the cold. She covered her mouth with her free hand to keep from making any sounds. Tears began rolling down her cheeks. Moving quietly to a different tree, she looked behind her. Since she saw nothing, she slid down the trunk of the tree, and sat on the ground. She was so sleepy. It had to be around midnight but she knew Smitty had not given up on finding her. Her eyelids began to slip closed and with a jerk of her head against the tree, she fought to keep them open. She couldn’t afford to fall asleep. Her head began to nod forward and she whipped it back up again. Another twig snapped, drawing her attention, but she was too tired to look around. Her eyes felt as if sand filled them. She rubbed them and leaned her head back against the tree.

She was stuck here until sunrise. If she tried moving on, she could end up in the wrong direction and lost or even worse, back at the house. Shaking her head, she realized she should’ve planned better but she had her opportunity and she took it. She could’ve done all of this in the morning while Smitty was still sleeping but no, she had it in her head to escape tonight. What an idiot! Her eyes drifted closed again. She just needed a little nap. A hand covering her mouth woke her, muffling the scream, which immediately erupted from her throat. All she could see was a flashlight beam in her face. She slumped back against the tree. Smitty had caught up to her. He’d found her and now she’d have to return to her prison cell. There was no use in even fighting him. It was over. Pulling her up off the ground, he held her elbow in a tight grip. He was leading her back toward the house and she begrudgingly went along. She was so mad at herself for falling asleep. “You wouldn’t have found me if I hadn’t fallen asleep,” she muttered stumbling along behind Smitty. “Don’t bet on it, princess. I’m one hell of a tracker.” Colt! Isabella stopped in her tracks and yanked her arm free of his grasp. He turned to look at her with a sly grin. “How did you know I took off?” she demanded.

Colt chuckled reaching out for her, but she pulled away. “You had Smitty in one hell of a panic. He called me. I left Barkley and came straight back to the house.” He looked her up and down. “You know you could’ve frozen out here? It still gets damned cold at night.” “I was fine until you found me,” she growled at him, refusing to acknowledge how cold she was, but accepting his jacket when he offered it. “I had to find you, Bella. You know that. We can’t let you go.” He clasped her arm, gentler this time and led her into a clearing. She choked back tears. Colt glanced at her, slowed to a halt, and pulled her into his arms. He rubbed her back in an attempt to soothe her. She appreciated it and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head against his chest and relishing the warmth of his body. She felt him move, and the sound of a number dialing. “I have her,” was all he said before hanging up. They stood there holding each other. She lifted her head away from his chest and gazed up at him. Colt lowered his mouth to hers. She sighed when their lips met. He groaned and moved his tongue into her mouth. She moved hers against his. Slowly, they slid down onto the ground. Colt lay on his back and pulled her on top of him. Her fingers slipped into his hair. It felt silky soft against her cool hands. While his mouth ravished hers, his hands moved up and down her back, and then into her hair, holding her head still. Pushing against the ground, Isabella broke the kiss and leaned back, straddling his hips. She pushed his jacket from

her shoulders, and pulled her shirt off over her head. The bright light of the full moon shining down through the trees allowed her to see his face. She gazed into his darkened eyes as she unclasped her bra. He licked his lips when her breasts fell free. Colt pushed himself into a sitting position. Capturing one of her erect nipples in his mouth, he made her moan with the sensation. Her fingers tangled in his hair as she held his head tightly to her. When he made a move to put her on her back, she stopped him. “Please, no…let me be in control this time,” she pleaded, shaking her head slightly. “I can’t have you on top of me, Colt…not just yet.” He nodded and she knew he understood it was because of Blackman. He fell back against the cold ground and took her with him. She controlled the kissing and the lovemaking. Grabbing the hem of his shirt in her hands, she lifted it over his chest and off over his head. She lay down on him, loving the feel of her breasts against the muscles of his chest. His fingers slid through her hair, sending tingling sensations across her scalp, making her close her eyes a moment in pleasure. Unsnapping his jeans, she lowered the zipper and slid her hand inside, wrapping her fingers around his hard shaft, making him groan. His hand reached for her jeans. He quickly undid them and reached inside. His hand stopped. He looked up at her in surprise. Isabella laughed. “Okay, so I was a little prepared for the cold.”

She moved off him to remove her jeans and the pajama bottoms. She left her panties on as if they were armor because she was suddenly feeling scared. “It’s me, princess. You know I won’t hurt you,” he whispered calming her fears. Isabella exhaled, her breath becoming visible in the cold night air. Reaching down, she took her panties off. This was Colt, she reminded herself, not Blackman. She leaned down and kissed him hard. Then she sat up, leaning back while she held his throbbing aroused shaft in her hand, and moved to lower herself down onto him but suddenly hesitated. Colt pulled himself up, cupped her face in his hands, kissing her deeply. Moaning against his mouth, she lowered herself over him. It felt wonderful. This was Colt. She moved up and down over him, and he put his hands on her hips, guiding her so she moved faster. She grinned down at him then leaned down to press her lips to his and dip her tongue into his mouth. Colt was breathing very hard. “Bella…so good…I need you to go faster, darlin’.” She laughed softly and moved her hips faster, grinding harder against him. Colt thrust upwards into her groaning, and then started shaking his head. She knew what he wanted. “Yes, Colt, yes…it’s okay,” she told him, her own breathing becoming ragged. He opened his eyes and looked up at her. “Are you sure?” When she nodded without hesitation, he flipped her to her back and drove into her hard. She wrapped her legs around his

waist and moved her hips to meet every thrust. She groaned low in her throat as she drew closer. “Colt! Now,” she begged digging her fingertips into his back. “Yes, Bella…now,” Colt said, melting into a groan thrusting harder into her. Isabella came hard, muffling her scream against his shoulder. He buried his face in her neck, growled out her name, and then collapsed on top of her. He rolled to his back and pulled her with him. She felt him laugh and raised her head, smiling down at him. “I have pine needles where they have no business of being.” She laughed with him. “Me too, I was hoping you’d have them all, but noooo, you had to take over.” Colt chuckled, and then sobered. “Are you all right?” She nodded. “I’m fine. I panicked for a brief second there, but when you reminded me it was you…I was fine.” “We need to get back,” he said suddenly, pushing her clear so he could sit up. “Smitty will be wondering where we are.” Standing, he adjusted his clothes, and then helped her dress. She put her pajama bottoms back on under her jeans. She’d feel foolish carrying them back into the house over her arm. A sudden thought hit her. She glanced up at Colt. “How did you find me?” He pushed her hair back from her shoulder and picked a leaf from the tangles.

“I told you. I’m a hell of a tracker. It’s in my genes,” he answered with a casual shrug. “Native American?” she asked. “Yes. My mother is full-blooded Cheyenne. My father was white.” So she’d been right about him. The first time she saw him, she’d thought he was Native American. She reached for his hand, he accepted it, and held it tight as they walked back to the house. Another thought filled her head when she remembered he’d left to meet Barkley. She came to a halt. He nearly pulled her off balance before he stopped too. He glanced back at her. “Is my dad…?” Her voice cracked trying to speak the words. “He’s fine. It wasn’t about him this time. He told Barkley he hasn’t been able to get away yet. I told Barkley he was probably telling the truth. The FBI will keep a close eye on him.” Isabella released a breath that had clutched tight in her chest. Thank you, Lord. Her family was still safe, but for how long? If Barkley didn’t get what he wanted and soon, he would kill her. She trembled at the thought. As if reading her mind, Colt pulled her into his arms. “I told you I’d protect you. He will not kill you. I won’t allow it. I promise you.” She nodded against his chest, wanting to trust him. With his arm around her shoulder, keeping her close, together they walked through the woods toward the house. As they got

closer to the house, she’d realized she hadn’t gotten far at all. In fact, she’d simply gone in a circle. It had definitely been crazy to try to run at night. Next time, and there would be a next time, she’d go in daylight. Colt led her to the house and they went inside. The found Smitty seated at the table, holding a wet cloth to his forehead. He narrowed his eyes at Isabella when they entered. She gave him an apologetic smile and shrugged. “Sorry, Smitty.” “You clobbered me pretty good. Don’t let it happen again,” he said with a groan. She didn’t respond to that demand. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t make any promises. Both men watched her but she looked away from them. She wanted to go home and be with her family. If she were home, her parents would be safer and the FBI could find Barkley, putting him back where he belonged. The two men talked low to each other for a few minutes, and then Colt led her to a bedroom, only it wasn’t the same one as before. Her eyes shifted immediately to the window. When she saw it was a jalousie style window, she cursed under her breath. Similar to shutters only made from glass, it was difficult to get through without breaking a lot of glass and possibly cutting herself, unless she could figure out how to remove each of the louvered rows of glass. It would do her no good at all thinking to escape that way otherwise. One bit of good luck for her was this bedroom also had a bathroom adjacent to it. There was another door in the bathroom leading to another room. While checking out the

facilities, she reached for the doorknob, opened the door, and glanced into the other room. She groaned when she saw Smitty standing in the middle of the room smiling at her. “You’re not escaping this way either.” Isabella slammed the door and heard him chuckle from the other side. Damn it! She also suspected when he wasn’t in there, the door would be locked. She huffed out her frustration. She wandered back into what was to be her new prison cell and took a seat on the bed. Glancing around, she decided it was a nice room, considering what it was for her. There was a queen size bed with a headboard flush against the wall. On the opposite wall was the door to the bathroom with a dresser located next to it. On the wall with the entry door sat a large bureau, nothing fancy but homey. The wall with the window was bare other than the large window itself. She wanted to beat her fists against something. She was frustrated and tired. The fight was beginning to go out of her and she needed to get it back. She couldn’t give up. She had to get away. So why do you keep having sex with Colt? Besides the fact that it was amazing, she wished she knew. Stretching out on the bed, she felt tears sting the backs of her eyes—yet again. She was so tired of crying, but her tears helped keep her wits about her. Every time she cried she got madder, and when she got mad, she started remembering she needed to get out of here. But her tears came for another

reason now. She feared for Colt. Would he survive this or go back to prison? Why did he have to live a life of crime? Dear God, please show me how to handle this. She rolled to her side, tucked her arms in for comfort, and closed her eyes. The night’s stress finally caught up with her and she fell asleep. **** Mont sat in the kitchen with Smitty. Without saying it, they both knew when Barkley got to the house the shit would hit the fan. They feared what he’d do. “He’s going to be pissed,” Mont said without looking at Smitty. Smitty snorted. “That, my friend, is an understatement. Hell, he’ll probably kill me.” Mont snapped his head up to look at Smitty, whose gaze met his. “I swear I won’t let that happen.” Smitty shrugged. “Goes with the territory man.” Mont shook his head. He wasn’t going to allow Barkley to hurt another person. This shit had to end, and end soon. He was going crazy waiting. Someone had to get to Lofton and bring him to the house so he could end this. Barkley was never going to give up until he had Lofton. Mont stood quickly, his chair scraping against the floor, making Smitty flinch.

“What the hell are you thinking?” Smitty asked narrowing his eyes at him in warning. “This shit just needs to get moving. I finally met the outside men. I’m in as far as that goes. It’s what I wanted to happen, but Barkley’s never going to give up on getting Lofton, and Lofton can’t get away from the mansion.” Mont ran his hand through his hair. “Christ! We need to get Lofton here somehow.” Smitty glared at him pushing a beer toward him. “We wait for Barkley to make the decisions. He’s the boss man, and you know that. We make no moves without his say-so.” Mont fell into his chair and looked at Smitty. He was right. Mont couldn’t do anything without Barkley’s say so. Damn it! He tensed when he heard a car pull up outside. Barkley. Mont and Smitty looked at each other. They both knew it was about to get rough. Barkley walked in the back door with Dayton following behind. He glared at both of them. Pulling out a chair, he sat with a loud hiss of air. Behind him, Dayton closed the door and leaned against it. Barkley took his time before speaking. He looked at Mont and then to Smitty. Mont knew Smitty had called Barkley informing him of what happened but held back the information about Mont coming back to look for her. Mont had to remember he told Barkley he was going to see his woman. If it came out he’d lied, Barkley would never trust him again. Mont listened while Smitty explained how he’d caught her, brought her back to the house and how Colt had helped when he arrived after it was all over.

“Where did you put her?” Barkley asked staring at Mont. “In the back bedroom. She’s not getting out of there.” Mont assured him. Barkley stood. “You’re damn right about that.” Without another word, he turned and left the room. Smitty and Mont quickly followed him. They had no choice but to watch as Barkley threw open the bedroom door, slamming it into the wall. Mont saw Isabella sit up and rub her eyes. They widened when she saw Barkley in the doorway with he and Smitty standing behind him. Isabella scooted up against the headboard, fear obvious in her expression. Barkley walked toward the bed and reached out, grabbing a handful of her hair. She screamed and grabbed at his arm, but he was too strong. He roughly dragged her from the bed. Mont’s hands clenched into fists, and Smitty gave him a slight shake of the head in warning. Mont tried to relax, but he was finding it difficult to do. He wanted to kill Barkley. Isabella screamed in pain as Barkley yanked her around by her hair. Suddenly, Barkley threw her to the floor and stood over her. She glared up at him, tears filling her eyes. He reached down, grabbing her arm and pulling her up. Once she was on her feet, his free hand clasped her throat and he shoved her against the wall. Mont nearly went after Barkley, but Smitty placed a hand on his arm stopping him. Isabella’s face was turning red from lack of oxygen. He watched her put her hands on Barkley’s

arms to make him stop, but it didn’t deter him. Barkley bared his teeth at her. “Don’t ever do that again, understand? I will kill you! The next time you try getting away, it will be your last. You understand me, you little bitch? Got it?” When she blinked and gave a slight nod, he released her. Mont watched her fall to the floor, gasping for air, putting her hand to her throat. Her moist eyes shifted in his direction and narrowed. He hadn’t done anything to help her and she knew it. The pain in her eyes was killing him. He saw a tear run down her flushed cheek. He clenched his jaw and his hands fisted again. All he wanted to do was go to her, but he couldn’t. Barkley stood in the center of the room, his breathing hard with his anger as he glared down at her. “I don’t care anymore about keeping you alive. I don’t need you to get to your precious daddy. As long as he thinks you’re alive, he’ll do what I want. You’d better keep that in mind,” he growled as he turned away from her then looked down at her again. “I won’t stop choking you next time. I’ll keep squeezing until you take your last breath.” Barkley walked toward the door, motioning for Mont and Smitty to move along. They turned to move toward the kitchen and heard the bedroom door slam and the lock click. Mont didn’t stop in the kitchen but strode straight past Dayton out the back door and into the woods. That was the hardest thing he’d ever had to watch. The life was draining out of her and all he could do was stand there. Barkley wanted to kill her, but he was teaching her a lesson first. The next time he would kill her, Mont knew the man

wouldn’t hesitate. Mont accepted Barkley was the boss, but his feelings for Isabella were taking over and he wanted to help her. Damn. He groaned, knowing he couldn’t. If Smitty hadn’t been standing there beside him to stop him, he would’ve gone in there and pulled Barkley off her. He stopped walking, put his hands on his hips, and stared at the ground. He was breathing hard with his anger and frustration and that was how Smitty found him. “You’re getting too attached to her. You can’t do that and you know it. It can’t go anywhere.” Mont sighed. “I know that. But it doesn’t stop me from wanting to protect her and…” “Worry about her? Love her? You do, don’t you? You’re in love with her,” Smitty probed him, but Mont didn’t answer him. He didn’t need to. Neither man spoke again as they walked back toward the house. Barkley stood in the kitchen and narrowed his eyes at them as they entered. “Where the hell did you two go?” Smitty spoke up. “Colt thought he heard something, we went to investigate it—like we’re supposed to do.” “Don’t be a smart-ass about it, Smith. I thought maybe you two couldn’t take seeing the little princess getting pushed around.” Smitty and Mont both laughed.

“You know better than that, Jonas. She needed to be taught a lesson,” Mont answered as casually as he could. Barkley looked at them for a few seconds as if trying to decide if they were telling the truth. Once he seemed satisfied they were, he nodded. His cell phone rang, and he walked into another room to answer it. Mont and Smitty simultaneously released sighs of relief. Neither noticed Dayton standing behind them so when he cleared his throat, they both turned. “Jesus, Dayton. Quit sneaking up on people,” Smitty hissed at him. Dayton raised his lips in what was probably a smug smile but with Dayton, it was hard to tell, and then he walked around them, leaving the room. Mont glanced at Smitty, who was frowning. They couldn’t be sure how much Dayton had seen or heard. Mont was about to motion for Smitty to follow him to the living room when Barkley came back in, and was smiling. “Lofton is going to meet me tomorrow. Some cabin he has. He’s sending me the coordinates. This is finally going to be over—tomorrow. Smith, you can get rid of the girl. Kill her and get rid of the body,” he commanded with a casual shrug. “You can do it tomorrow after we leave. Dayton and Colt will be going with me.” “I can take care of the girl,” Mont interjected. “I’ll do it. You’re no killer, Colt,” Smitty said without hesitation. Mont narrowed his eyes at Smitty, but Barkley had the last word on it.

“He’s right, Raines. I don’t need you to kill Lofton either. I’m going to take great pleasure in doing it myself. You won’t need to do anything but make sure no one else is around. Smitty can take care of the girl.” He suddenly laughed. “Do what you want with her before you kill her, Smith. Rough her up if you want, I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m finally getting what I want.” His cell rang again, and he left the room to answer it. When he returned a few minutes later, his face was red with anger. “What’s wrong?” Mont asked trying not to think about Isabella. “Pollard and Gentry were arrested. That was Long on the phone. They didn’t get him, but…” He paced and Mont could see his face getting redder by the second with rage. “How?” Smitty asked with hesitation. “I have no idea. Long said he was at one of the drop-offs, keeping an eye out when Pollard and Gentry went to get the money. Suddenly, the FBI surrounded them. God damn it!” Barkley raised his fists in the air and roared with anger. “But what about Lewis and Rodgers?” Mont asked when Barkley seemed a little calmer. “Long figures they were caught too. He’s been waiting for them to show up, but it’s been four hours already and they aren’t back yet. We set both pickups on the same day and for the same time, and the feds just happened to be there. Son of a bitch!” Barkley’s rage hadn’t ended. “How could they have found out, though?” Mont asked with his own curiosity piqued.

“I haven’t figured that out yet. The only ones who knew were those guys, me, and…” Barkley turned to look at Mont. Mont narrowed his eyes. “Don’t even think about it, Barkley. You know better.” “Do I? It’s kind of strange all this shit went down once I brought you inside.” “Maybe it was Lewis and Rodgers? Maybe that’s why they aren’t back.” Mont stared him down. Barkley stared back at him. Mont didn’t blink. Barkley swore, shaking his head. “You’re probably right. It’s awful funny no one’s heard from them. Either they tipped off the feds or they just took off with the money.” Mont nodded his agreement. He caught Smitty watching him with a scowl. Mont glared back at him, making Smitty shrug before pulling up a chair at the table and sitting down. “Worry about that later, huh…you need to start working on your strategy for tomorrow. We’ll figure out all that other shit later,” Smitty said, reminding Barkley about what he really wanted. Barkley agreed, took a seat, and motioned for Mont and Dayton to sit. They spent the next hour or so discussing the meeting with Lofton set for the next day. Barkley reminded Smitty to make sure the girl was dumped somewhere she’d never be found. Smitty nodded. Mont’s heart was in his gut. If he could get her out of here, he’d do it in a heartbeat, but it wouldn’t do him any good. Barkley would hunt them down and kill them both once he

found them—and he would find them. There was no doubt of that in Mont’s mind and it terrified him.

Chapter Six

Isabella stretched out on the floor where Barkley had left her and cried. Why hadn’t Colt stopped him? She knew the answer to that—he couldn’t. Barkley was the boss. If Colt made a move against him, he’d be dead. She’d been terrified thinking she was going to die. Her neck was sore from where his fingers were tight around it. She hated Barkley. Finally, she pulled herself up from the floor. She’d laid there for what felt like hours. Besides her neck hurting, her head was sore from where Barkley had grabbed her by the hair. She couldn’t be sure but he may have pulled some out by the roots. She rubbed her aching scalp and took a seat on the bed. It seemed quiet in the house. She didn’t know who was there and who wasn’t anymore. She hoped Barkley was gone because she wanted to kill that man. If she had the means, she would do it. Never in her life had she felt such hate for someone, except perhaps Blackman, but she didn’t have to worry about him anymore. That problem was gone—thanks to Colt—but then Colt hadn’t helped her when Barkley was throwing her around. She’d looked to him for aid, pleading with him with her eyes, but he’d done nothing. He hadn’t

because he couldn’t, and she knew that. She’d seen the look of pain on his face. Watching Barkley mistreat her had hurt him. Perhaps that was part of the reason she’d lied to Barkley, telling him she wouldn’t try to run again. Fear more than anything made her lie because she couldn’t tell him the truth because he would’ve choked the life out of her right there. What she’d really wanted to do was to spit in his face, but he would’ve killed her for sure. Would Colt have allowed him to kill her? Isabella gazed out the window and saw the sun was beginning to set again. She’d slept most of the day away until Barkley had come in and tossed her around like she was a ragdoll. Her hands clenched into fists. More than anything, she’d wanted to fight back, but he was so much stronger and she couldn’t breathe. Once he dropped her to the floor, she’d struggled to catch her breath and live. Crossing the room to the bathroom, she turned on the light and looked into the mirror. What she saw there made her want to scream. Around her neck was an angry handprint. She almost did but suddenly, the door connecting to the other room opened and Colt walked into the bathroom. He quickly closed the door behind him, then moving around her to the door to her room, he pulled it closed too. Turning to face her, he pulled her into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him to her. “I wanted to kill him,” he said against her hair, smoothing his hand along the length. “I couldn’t do anything. I’m so sorry, Bella.”

She looked up at him through tears. “I know. At first, I was so mad when you wouldn’t help me, but then I realized you couldn’t.” Colt cupped his hands around her face, leaning close to kiss her. She held on to him as tight as she could, and then pulled back from him. “Colt? What are we going to do? I lied to him. I can’t stay here. I have to get out of here.” He shook his head, frowning at her. “Don’t, princess, please. I’m telling you, he’ll kill you when he finds you. He doesn’t make empty promises.” He hesitated, closing his eyes as if what he was about to say would hurt her. “Barkley is meeting with your father tomorrow.” She tried to pull away from him, but he held her tight. “I’m going with him, Bella.” She jerked away from him, glaring up at him. “Please tell me you’re joking, please.” She didn’t want to believe his words, but he shook his head. “Get out,” she screamed at him when he started to say something. “I can’t believe you’re going with him to kill my father! I was hoping…” “You were hoping I’d help you escape,” Colt said, his fingers trailing through his hair in frustration. “Jesus Christ, Bella! How do I get it through your head? I won’t help you. I can’t help you. I would think you’d finally understand that since I’ve brought you back here…twice!” Isabella slapped him, his expression going from frustrated to one of surprise in a flash.

“Get out! I hate you just as much as I hate the rest of them. You’re all going to get caught eventually. You will be caught and I’m going to take great joy in testifying against you—all of you!” Reaching for the doorknob on the door leading to her room, she paused and turned slightly. Looking at him over her shoulder, she exhaled. “Or you’re going to end up dead…dead, Colt.” Stepping through the doorway and without looking back, she closed the door behind her. **** Later in the evening, Jonas Barkley met with Dylan Long. “Why are we here, Long?” “I don’t trust Raines. Don’t you think it’s a little strange everything started going wrong after you brought him in?” Dylan folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the metal table in the abandoned warehouse. “I trust him and that’s all that matters. He’s never given me a reason not to trust him. He’s done whatever I’ve told him to do. He’s smart, Long. Damn smart,” Jonas said. “Maybe he’s too smart. How do you know he’s not the one who turned the guys in? It’s really funny how that shit went down right after you introduced us all to Raines, and filled him in on what was going on,” Dylan growled. Jonas ran his hand over his thinning hair. “I thought of that too, but he’s been right beside me for almost a year now, and he has never given me cause to doubt him.”

Dylan stared at him, and then finally nodded. “If you trust him then I guess I have to, too.” “You’ve got that shit right, Long. I can’t have any of my men after each other. It was bad enough when Raines had to kill Blackman.” Dylan straightened up. “What? You didn’t tell me about that.” Jonas huffed. “The stupid son of a bitch tried to rape Lofton’s daughter. I don’t go for that shit. Rape pisses me off big time. Apparently, Raines caught him on top of her and they fought.” He shrugged. “Colt stabbed him dead. He ended up stabbed too, in the shoulder. Weird thing was, the Lofton bitch didn’t even try to run.” “She just hung around while they fought?” Dylan stared at Jonas in disbelief. “Yeah, weird huh? I think she was in shock or something. Otherwise, I know damn well she would have taken off.” “Sounds a little fishy to me…are you sure about Raines? I mean, maybe he’s a cop or something.” Jonas laughed. “Cop? Colt’s no cop. I was in the cell next to him inside. I saw two guards kick the shit out of him. I can’t see a cop letting that happen just to be in jail for any reason.” “Any reason? Come on, Barkley. The only reason a cop would be in prison would be to get to you.” Dylan shook his head. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.” “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do what the fuck I tell you to do. Raines does what I tell him and I expect the same from all of you or you know what will happen,”

Jonas growled at him, enjoying when the man looked away in reaction to his intimidation. “Even Raines only talks back when he thinks I’ve fucked up and trust me, if I didn’t agree with him, he’d be gone. He’s my right hand man and I trust him. It should be enough for you and if it’s not, leave.” Dylan stared back at him. “I don’t like it but I’ll go along. Just promise me if it turns out Raines is a cop, I can have him.” Jonas nodded and grinned. “You got it. Hopefully, this will all be over tomorrow.” “Yeah, let’s hope so,” Dylan said, rubbing his jaw. Jonas knew something was still sticking in the man’s craw. “Still seems strange to me that the girl didn’t run. I mean, she had the perfect opportunity yet she stuck around.” “Like I said, she was probably in shock after Blackman trying to rape her. He smacked her around a good bit,” Barkley explained, wondering why Long couldn’t let it go. “The stupid son of a bitch. He used to be my right-hand man, but he got sloppy. I never would have had him with me at all if I’d known the prick was into rape.” “I don’t like it either. As far as I’m concerned he got what he deserved,” Dylan replied. “You’re right about that. I may plan to have her killed, but rape is a whole other matter. Who the fuck gets their jollies out of taking a woman by force? There are plenty of women out there who give it up without a fight, right?” Dylan nodded. “Yeah, I’ve never forced a woman in my life, and I don’t plan to—no matter what. Stupid bastard.”

**** The next morning, someone shook Mont awake. He opened his eyes to find he was staring up at Barkley. “Get your ass up, Raines. We need to get going. Lofton’s cabin is an hour from here.” Mont yawned and nodded, rubbing his hands over his face and jaw. “Let me get a quick shower.” Barkley grunted his approval and left the room. Mont got out of the bed, strolled naked into the bathroom, and turned on the shower. He looked toward the door leading to Isabella’s room. He knew she thought Smitty was in the next bedroom, but he’d told Smitty he wanted to be in here and Smitty hadn’t argued. He was shaving when the door to her room opened. Isabella made a squeak of embarrassment but when she realized it wasn’t Smitty, she stood staring at him. In the reflection of the mirror, he watched her blink back tears from her eyes. She crossed the small space to stand alongside him and gaze up at him. He finished shaving even though he surprised himself that he was able to without cutting his throat with her standing so close watching him. After he wiped the traces of lather from his face and neck, he met her eyes in the mirror. She stared back at him. “Colt…” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. He practically ripped the pajamas off her when she reached for the towel around his waist, pulled it loose, and dropped it to the floor. His cock was so hard for her it ached. When she wrapped her hot hand around it and smiled up at him, he thought he would embarrass himself by coming right then. “I think you need a cold shower,” he said against her lips, his voice trembling as he fought for control. “All I need is you, Colt.” That was all the encouragement he needed. He picked her up and entered the shower stall with her, turning the water on after setting her on her feet. Cupping her face in his hands, he pressed his lips to hers and kissed her as if he’d never see her again. The thought was severe in his mind because he knew, after this morning, he never would. It would all be over. Done. He swallowed hard, pushing the thought from his mind and gazed down into her eyes. “You intoxicate me, Bella. I’m so drunk on you.” Isabella moaned as the hot water slid down over her. Mont picked up the soap and once he had a good lather, he started washing her back and down over her ass. His lips pressed to her neck and shoulder, caressing her sweet skin. “You have the most amazing body,” he whispered alongside her ear before sucking the lobe into his mouth, grating it sensually with his teeth. He traced the shell of her ear before he ran his tongue lightly down her neck to her shoulder. “I can’t get enough of you.” His slick hands moved around to the front of her and up over her breasts. Her nipples peaked under his palms. He moved one hand down her flat stomach to her strip of curls and slipped a finger between her folds. Her head fell back on his

shoulder as he rubbed her clitoris between his fingers. Isabella put her hand over his and pressed it tighter against her. Grinding against his hand, he felt when she came because it hit her so hard her knees buckled. Mont kept his one arm wrapped around her waist so she wouldn’t fall to the floor of the shower. While she was trying to catch her breath, he bent her forward and inched into her still trembling body from behind. She groaned as he filled her. He held still for a few seconds, and then started moving in and out of her. She placed her hands against the wall and moved her hips, meeting his thrusts. Grasping her hips with his hands, he started moving faster and harder against her. She moaned his name as he pounded into her. He felt her inner muscles clenching around his cock and her body shake as she came again. “Bella, sweetheart, I’m coming,” he told her with a groan while moving against her harder, making her come again until they both nearly fell to the floor. **** Isabella knew she should still be angry with Colt, but she loved this man so much. She didn’t know what today was going to bring and wanted to put it off for as long as possible. She turned in his arms to kiss him, tracing her lips along his freshly shaven jaw and down his neck to his muscled chest. She lightly scraped her nails down his chest, making him hiss in a breath. Wanting to please him the way he had her so many times, she dropped to her knees in front of him, took his shaft in her hand, and kissed the head. Colt moaned her name, pleasing her. She slowly ran her tongue around the shaft, from the tip to the base. He spread his legs to give him a steadier stance while

tangling his fingers in her wet hair. She took him deep into her mouth and gently sucked. Glancing up at him, she noted how his eyes closed and she knew he was trying to control himself. Further enticing him, she ran her tongue along the groove on the head of his hard cock. Colt groaned her name as if in pain. Suddenly, he grabbed her under her arms and lifted her up, pushing her back against the coolness of the shower wall and thrust into her with a rough urgency. Wrapping her legs around his hips, and her arms around his shoulders, she hung on for dear life as he pounded into her. She put her lips to his shoulder and tenderly bit him, making him grunt. Placing her hands on his head, she pulled his face to hers as she came and moaned into his mouth. Colt pulled back and stared into her eyes. He didn’t look away or even close his eyes as he came inside of her. She could feel him throbbing and pulsing inside her and she reveled in the sensation. Spent, Colt rested his forehead against hers, his chest heaving with the after-effects of their passion. Unwinding her legs from around him, she dropped her feet to the shower floor. She took the soap in her hands and first washed him and then herself while he silently watched her every move. After she finished and rinsed clean, she gave him a sweet loving kiss and stepped from the shower. She wrapped a towel around her and left through the door leading to her bedroom, closing the door softly behind her without a word or glance back at him. ****

Mont stood in the shower alone, wishing things were different. A single tear rolled down his cheek. His heart was aching as it had never done before. He waited a few minutes after she left before stepping from the shower. He glanced toward the closed door to her room and realized it had happened. He’d fallen in love with Isabella Lofton. Why was it a surprise? He’d loved her before he’d actually met her. He knew he was in trouble any time he looked at her photo. How was he going to do what he had to do and go on? He’d wanted this for so long. He couldn’t stop now, not being this close. Way too close. Mont wanted to put his fist through the door. He wanted to go into her room, grab her in his arms, and spirit her away to safety, to a place where it could be just them. How he wished he could do just that. If only things were different…no, damn it, things weren’t different. He was about to succeed at something he’d had as a goal for years. Years! No matter how much he wanted Isabella, loved Isabella, he had to finish this. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself against the emotions he imagined roiling on the other side of the door. He exhaled, reaching for the doorknob. He stepped into her bedroom. Isabella was there, crying on the bed. He walked toward the bed, took a seat alongside her and pulled her into his arms. Isabella slid her arms around his shoulders. Pressing kisses against her neck, he pulled the towel from around her and stood. Isabella was the woman he wanted in his life for however long or short it was to be. She looked up at him, tears glistening in her eyes. He slid his hands along her legs until he reached her ankles, and then he pulled her to the edge of the

bed. Dropping to his knees, he settled between her legs and heard her gasp as he stroked his tongue up along one silky thigh, and then the other until he reached the soft curls covering the treasure he sought. He dipped his tongue inside her wet, hot folds until he reached her clitoris. He felt her hands clasp his head and her fingers pull passionately at his hair. He pushed her legs further apart and feasted on her. Moving her legs over his shoulders, he sucked and licked at her until she moaned and squirmed. He watched her succumbing to the frenzy of her passion. Isabella grabbed a pillow and covered her face, muffling her screams as she came. Wanting to give her more, Mont sucked harder on her clitoris while inserting two fingers inside her. He felt her inner muscles clenching around them as she came again, groaning deep in her throat. His desire for her now made his cock achingly hard, but this was for her. Moving up over her body, he kissed her nipples. Gazing into her eyes, he pressed his lips to hers, kissing her hard and deep. Without a word, he stood, stared down at her beautiful face, heaving chest, and flushed body. She was so beautiful. Closing his eyes, he committed the image of her there permanently to his memory, and then returned to the bathroom, closing the door between them. After dressing, Mont strolled into the kitchen like it was any ordinary day. There he found Barkley, Dayton, and Smitty sitting at the table. He headed to the coffee pot, poured himself a cup, and leaned a hip against the counter. “What time do we need to be there?” Mont asked.

“We’ve got about an hour and a half to spare. Drink your coffee. Get something to eat if you’re hungry,” Barkley commented without looking in his direction. “I’m good,” Mont told him. He couldn’t ignore the look Dayton was giving him so he raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him. Dayton smirked but didn’t look away. Mont glanced in Smitty’s direction but noticed the man refused to meet his gaze. Mont gave a grumble. “What was that for, Raines?” Dayton continued to stare at him. “Just eager to get going, is all. You got a problem with that, Dayton?” Dayton snorted. “Why would I have a problem, Raines?” Barkley looked first at Mont, and then at Dayton. “You two have something you need to settle before we get going? I can’t afford to have you two not paying attention to what you’re doing.” He glared at Dayton. “We’re fine. I was just giving him a hard time. He looks like he hasn’t slept much lately,” Dayton said, not dropping his gaze from Mont. “That better be all it is. I’m going to have enough on my mind with killing Lofton without having to worry about the two of you being at each other’s throats,” Barkley growled. “No problems, boss,” Mont told him as he looked at Dayton and saluted him with his coffee cup. Dayton raised his in return. Mont walked to the table, pulled a chair out, turning

it around, straddled it, and drank his coffee. Smitty remained quiet throughout the confrontation. Barkley let out a bark of laughter. “I can’t believe I’m finally going to get that bastard. It’s been a long time coming.” “Where are you going to do it?” Those were the first words Smitty had spoken since Mont came into the room. “I figured I’d just do it right there at his cabin. No one knows he’s going to be there so it’ll be a while before anyone finds him, and by then I’ll be long gone.” Barkley laughed with evil intent. “Perfection.” Smitty nodded and laughed. “That’s why you’re the boss.” Barkley burst out laughing. “You got that right. I’m going to enjoy kicking the shit out of him first, and then I’m going to put a bullet in his brain.” The men joined him in laughter. Mont counted on Barkley to make sure things ran smooth. The only time it ever went wrong was five years ago when Barkley was caught—he got shot. He was usually so quick in mind and body it made it almost impossible to catch him. So many other men with criminal backgrounds wanted to work for him, but never made the cut. Mont had been one of the lucky ones. He’d impressed Barkley and that wasn’t an easy thing to do, but he managed to get in on the inside. It was what he’d wanted, what he’d intended. He was the brains Barkley needed to back him up. Mont glanced at Barkley. To anyone who didn’t know him, he looked like any corporate executive. He could easily be mistaken for a banker, stockbroker, or politician on the street. The man took pride in his appearance—no cheap suits for

Jonas Barkley. He always had to look his best. It didn’t matter if he was going to a meeting or going to kill a man, he was dressed to the nines, and he took pride in it. The thought that the man wore silk ties and Italian shoes when he was contemplating killing someone amazed Mont. He sipped his coffee as he took in the men around the table. Smitty kept his eyes on his cup and refused to look at Mont at all, while Dayton sat back completely relaxed looking as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Mont could tell Barkley’s mind was working. He’d learned how the man worked from him being in the next cell in prison. Barkley’s brain never seemed to stop. “Any word on Lewis or Rodgers?” Mont asked, breaking the silence which had descended on the room. Barkley shook his head. “They either got their asses caught or took off with the loot, or maybe they were in with the feds from the beginning. I don’t know how they all fucked up. All of them.” “Seems strange to me that Long’s the only one who didn’t get caught,” Dayton interjected. Barkley glanced at the man, rubbing his neck as if weighing the man’s suggestion. “I agree. I might have to get with Long once this thing with Lofton is over and find out.” He glanced at the clock on the wall, and then his gaze shifted to Mont. “You ready to hit the road?” Mont nodded, pushed out of his chair, and closed the distance to the sink with two long-legged steps to wash out his cup. He took a deep breath, thinking about the day ahead, and Isabella. Turning from the sink, his gaze met Smitty’s for the

first time today. Smitty frowned and slightly shook his head, the motion only noticed by him. Mont gave him a terse nod and moved toward the door. Barkley and Dayton headed out the door ahead of him. He was going to follow them on his bike. If things went wrong, each man was on his own, not waiting for the others. They would all go whichever way they needed to go to escape. Mont stopped at the doorway and looked toward the living room. He knew he couldn’t see the room his Bella was in, but he knew she was there. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slow, he left the house, suspecting he’d never return. This was it. It was all going to be over today, some way, somehow. It would all go down today, no matter the outcome. Mont arrived at the cabin ahead of the others. The plan was for him to get to the cabin first and look around the grounds. Barkley had found an aerial view of the cabin on the Internet, which gave them the layout of the cabin and an earth view of the grounds surrounding it. Barkley and Dayton were to stay back at the end of the road until Mont came back to let them know if he’d spotted anyone else around. When Mont arrived at the car, he tapped on the window and enjoyed watching Dayton just about jump out of his skin. Dayton glared up at him through the window before rolling it down. Mont grinned with satisfaction “All clear. I didn’t see anyone but Lofton. I was able to check the grounds and the rooms inside the cabin. It’s all good,” he told them. “Let’s get rolling then,” Barkley told Dayton, and then turned to Mont. “Raines, stick around out here in case

someone shows up or Lofton decides to run. You have your gun?” Mont reached behind his back and produced his gun. Barkley nodded and Mont returned the gun to the back waistband of his jeans and pulled his shirt down over it. He hurried off into the woods to wait. He stopped, glancing back at the car and waited until they pulled off toward the cabin. He crouched down, and then ran toward the cabin, all the while hoping there were no complications.

Chapter Seven

Isabella stood at the window staring out of it while tears rolled down her face. She knew Barkley and Colt had left to kill her father. Her body shook and she folded her arms across her chest, hugging herself. She wondered what her father was thinking. She couldn’t believe he was meeting Barkley. She didn’t know where they were meeting, but Barkley wouldn’t go unless it was private. Her mother must be worried to death with both her daughter and now her husband missing. Isabella doubted he told her mother he was leaving. Knowing her father, he just left. She was curious to know how he thought he’d get out with the FBI surrounding him. Isabella shivered even though she wasn’t cold. So much of her life had changed since the night of the ball. How many weeks ago was that? She’d lost track but it felt like a lifetime. When she heard Colt’s motorcycle start up, she cried harder. How could he do this knowing how it would destroy her? Really, Isabella? He’s a criminal. He’s a part of Barkley’s crew. He obviously has no compassion for anyone’s life. The sound of the door opening surprised her, making her cry out. Turning, she found Smitty standing there. She’d

forgotten her own dangerous situation. “Come with me, Miss Lofton.” He motioned for her to come out of the room, but she didn’t move. “Why?” Smitty narrowed his eyes at her. “Just do it.” “Are you going to kill me?” He moved toward her, reaching out to grab her arm. She quickly hurried to the far side of the bed away from him. Smitty placed his hands on his hips, and hung his head. He let out a loud audible huff, and then leapt across the bed so fast she wasn’t ready. He caught her. She started to fight him, kicking out at him, but he wrapped his arms around her waist with her back to his chest, and held her tight against him. She tried kicking backwards, but she couldn’t put enough force into it. Giving up because she knew she was beat, she stopped fighting, falling limp and hanging her head in despair. She began to sob because she was going to die. Smitty carried her to the kitchen and dropped her into a chair at the table. He hovered close so she didn’t dare try to run but instead, glared up at him through tears. “What is this? Are you offering me a last meal?” Smitty’s mouth twitched as if resisting a smile. “Not quite.” She stared up at him, fearing what he had planned. When he stepped away from the table, she watched him pick up a cell phone from the counter, and dial a number. As soon as he

turned his back on her to talk privately, she jumped to her feet and ran for the door. She managed to reach the front yard before he tackled her. She screamed and fought but Smitty rolled her over, lying on top of her. He grabbed her hands and held them above her head. “God damn it Isabella! Stop it,” Smitty yelled at her. “If you don’t settle down, I’m going to turn you over my knee.” Isabella stopped struggling and gazed up into his face. “What?” “You heard me.” He released her, pushed to his feet, and put a hand out to her. She looked at it and with a moment of hesitation, she placed her hand in his, and he helped her to her feet. “Did you say you’re going to put me over your knee?” Had she heard him correctly? What kind of criminal threatens to put someone over his knee? “I’m not going to kill you, Isabella. I’m taking you home.” “You’re taking me…home? For real? Won’t Barkley be angry at you for that?” “I really don’t give a shit what Barkley does. I’m taking you home—” She threw herself into his arms and laughed, perhaps a bit hysterically. Smitty caught her and chuckled. She pulled back and gazed up at him. This was the first time she’d ever seen him grin, and he had a gorgeous smile with straight white teeth, and dimples in his cheeks. He was quite handsome too. “Why? Why would you do this, Smitty? You’ll be in trouble with Barkley for sure,” she asked him, suddenly

worrying over him. Could this be true? Would he really risk everything for her? Colt wasn’t willing, but Smitty was. “My name isn’t Smitty, Miss Lofton, it’s actually Micah Turner, and I’m an FBI Agent. I’ve been undercover keeping an eye on Barkley and his men. Now, it’s time I need to get you home.” “You’re FBI? Undercover? So, no one ever calls you Smitty?” He smiled at her and shook his head. “No. It was an alias. My middle name is Smith, my mother’s maiden name, so I figured if I went by Smitty I’d remember to answer to it.” She laughed and hooked her arm through his, but then she sobered. “Colt?” she asked glancing up at him with hope. Micah shook his head, and she choked back a sob. Somehow, she knew it was too much to hope Colt was undercover too. She walked to a car with Agent Turner, wishing she felt relief instead of a heartbreaking pain in her chest. Tears rolled down her cheeks throughout the drive home. Upon arriving at her parents’ home, Isabella bolted from the car when she saw her mother hurrying down the front steps to her. They embraced and cried in each other’s arms. Two men in suits came to the top of the stairs from inside the house and stood watching. She sensed more than saw Micah standing by the car. “Daddy?” Isabella asked looking into her mother’s eyes and already knowing the answer.

“He’s gone to the cabin to meet Barkley.” When Isabella muttered a low curse followed by a ragged sob, her mother pulled her back into her arms. “Don’t worry, honey. He’s not alone. There are agents all over the place. Barkley and his men will be caught or killed.” Isabella heard the hate in her mother’s voice. Despite her wishing the same thing, she broke down and sobbed. Colt. She feared he’d end up caught, or worse, dead. She clung to her mother as she led her up the steps and into the house. The two agents shuffled aside then followed them inside. Isabella knew they’d have a lot of questions for her. **** Mont crouched in the woods, but kept an eye on the cabin. It was quiet—too quiet. He stalked carefully through the woods toward the cabin. When he got close enough, he sidled up alongside one of the windows and peeked in. Barkley stood in the center of the room with his gun pointed at Governor Barton Lofton. Mont strained to listen so he could hear them through the glass. “I finally have you where I want you, Lofton, with my gun pointed at your head. I should just shoot you right now and get it over with, but I want to have some fun with you first.” “Where’s my daughter?” Lofton glared at him. Barkley laughed and shook the barrel of his gun at the man. “Probably dead by now since my man was given instructions to kill her once I left,” he told the governor, who frowned, making Barkley smile an evil smile. “Oh don’t

worry, Lofton, I’m sure he had some fun with her first though.” Mont gritted his teeth and cursed low in his throat. Shaking his head slightly, he had to keep his head clear so he couldn’t afford to think of Isabella right now. He had to keep his mind on what was going on. He couldn’t let his worry for her occupy his mind even as much as he worried about what was happening with her. He kept his focus on the two men in the room. Suddenly, it dawned on him that there were only two men in the room. Where in hell was Dayton? Mont scanned the room but didn’t see him. He carefully moved from that window to another one, checking each room through its window but came up empty. Shit! Where the hell was Dayton? He turned to return to the main window when someone punched him in the jaw, knocking him to the ground. Mont felt woozy and shook his head. Looking up through squinted eyes, he saw Dayton standing over him, staring down at him. “I’ve wanted to do that for quite a while now,” Dayton said with a smug smile. He reached down to grab the front of Mont’s shirt, but he was faster and slammed his fist into Dayton’s gut, making him grunt and double over. Hitting him again, this time with an uppercut to his jaw, Dayton’s eyes glazed over for a second but he shook it off and came after Mont and together they fell to the ground. All Mont could think was he didn’t have time for this shit and he had to finish it now. He curled his arms around

Dayton’s neck, rolled to his back, and wrapped his legs around Dayton’s lower body. Dayton struggled, but Mont was stronger and proved it by choking Dayton until he took his last breath, and fell limp in Mont’s hold. Pushing Dayton off him, he climbed to his feet and shoving him out of the way, returned to the main window, where he could look in and see what was happening between Barkley and Lofton. When he got there, he glanced in and found the men in the same spots in the room. How long were they going to stand there and stare at each other? Mont groaned with impatience. One of them needed to make a move, but Barkley seemed to enjoy toying with Lofton. “Why would you find it necessary to kill my daughter?” Lofton yelled in anger. Barkley laughed with malicious pleasure. “Because she’s a piece of you, Lofton, and I want all of you dead—you and your family, all dead. Once I’m done with you, I will find a way to get to your wife and I’ll take my time with her too. Yeah, I’ll have my fun, just like I’m going to do with you and hopefully the same as what Smitty’s doing with your precious Isabella.” The anger on Lofton’s face wasn’t hard to see and he made a move toward Barkley, but he backed down quick enough when Barkley raised his gun at him. Lofton clenched his hands into fists, and Mont had no doubt had the man had the chance he would kill Barkley with his bare hands. “Why don’t you just shoot me and get it over with, Barkley?”

Barkley walked toward him, holding the gun close to Lofton’s chin, and sticking his own face close. “That would take all the fun out of it, and I want to toy with you first. It would be so easy to just kill you, but I don’t like easy.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Do I Dayton?” he yelled. When Dayton didn’t answer him, Barkley yelled his name again. Mont watched as Barkley moved toward the window and looked out. He turned around just in time to see Lofton make a move on him, and pointed the gun at him. Barkley walked slowly back toward him, and Lofton stood frozen in place when Barkley pressed the gun against his forehead. “Try it. Go ahead, I want you to,” Barkley growled at him. Lofton exhaled slowly, and stepped back. “What are you going to do after you kill my family? Go after the jury members too? Go after anyone who had anything to do with putting you away?” Barkley tilted his head to the side and smiled. “Now there’s a good idea. You know what they say—payback’s a bitch.” He walked back toward the window and gazed out again. When he caught sight of Mont at another window, he signaled him to come inside the cabin. Mont cursed his seeing him. He wasn’t supposed to go inside. He didn’t want to go inside, but now he had no choice. He strode around to the door and entered the cabin. “Where the fuck is Dayton?” Barkley snapped at him as soon as he was in the room.

Mont shrugged. “How would I know? I’m not supposed to be watching him.” Barkley glared at him. “That son of a bitch had better not have run off. I will hunt his ass down and kill him.” He whipped his head around to glare at Lofton when the man started laughing. “What’s so damn funny, Lofton?” “You sure plan on killing a lot of people, Barkley. I think you need more men.” Lofton laughed. “Then again, your men don’t seem to stick around, do they?” Barkley hit him alongside his head. Lofton stumbled back, but caught himself before he fell. Even with his hand to the side of his head, he managed to pull himself up to his full height. Barkley laughed. “If I didn’t hate you so much, I’d admire you.” “Go to hell,” Lofton told him. “I probably will, but I plan on sending you there first.” Barkley raised the gun at Lofton again. Lofton simply stared at him. Barkley lowered the gun, handed it to Mont, walked straight toward Lofton, and punched him in the gut. Lofton doubled over. Barkley hit him on the back of the neck, making him fall to the floor. Now Barkley stood over him gloating. “Get up. Get up you fuckin’ son of a bitch.” Lofton pulled himself up from the floor and stood. Barkley hit him in the mouth. His head snapped back and blood bubbled out from his lip. He spit it out. When Barkley made another move to hit him, Lofton’s arm shot out and he landed a fist on Barkley’s nose. The move surprised even Mont. He

watched Barkley stumble backwards toward him. He caught Barkley under the arms and shoved him back toward Lofton. Barkley turned and glared at Mont, who shrugged. “Sorry, Jonas, I thought this is what you wanted? You know, to beat him up first.” Barkley gave a nod, wiping his mouth before marching back toward Lofton. Lofton’s fist hit him again but this time, when Barkley fell back he grabbed the gun from Mont and shot Lofton in the leg. Lofton cried out and went down. Lying out on the floor bleeding, he looked up at Barkley. “Is that the only way you can beat me, Barkley, by shooting me in the leg?” Lofton exclaimed with a sarcastic laugh. “I’m tired of fucking with you.” Barkley raised the gun, his face red with anger. Suddenly, the doors burst open, making Barkley spin around and firing his gun, but several rounds of gunfire quickly took him down. Bleeding, he fell to the floor. Every gun turned to aim at Mont. Someone shouted at him to get on his knees and put his hands behind his head, which he quickly did. “Interlock your fingers, Raines,” one of the men shouted at him. Mont thought the voice sounded familiar so he slowly turned his head. He chuckled when he saw who owned the voice. “Dylan Long, well, I’ll be…no wonder the look-out didn’t go too well for Gentry and Pollard.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Mont saw Barkley raise his gun to fire. Mont shouldered Dylan out of the way and threw himself toward Lofton, feeling the bullet hit him with a sear of pain. His last thought was of his beautiful princess, Bella. **** Isabella sat in her old bedroom at the Governor’s mansion looking out the window. She jumped up from her seat when she saw a line of cars entering the driveway, running down the stairs and out the front door. The agents were speaking with her mother and ushered her into a car. Isabella got to the car just in time before they closed the door. “Mom, what’s happening?” “Your dad’s been shot, but he’s fine. It’s all over Isabella. It’s finally over.” She started to pull the door shut but Isabella stopped her. “Was Barkley killed?” she asked, and when her mother nodded, her heart clutched in her chest. “What about…were the other men with him killed too?” Her mother shrugged, and gave her a quick hug. “I don’t know, dear. Ask one of the agents. I need to get to the hospital. Do you want to come too?” Isabella told her no, but asked her to call later and let her know how her father was doing. As soon as her mother’s door closed, the car drove quickly down the driveway. She turned to go back into the house when the door on another car opened, and Micah stepped out. With an anxious eagerness, she looked

to him for a positive answer about Colt. He shook his head. Her entire body began to shake, and tears rolled down her face. “No! Please, Micah…no,” she cried feeling every bit of strength drain from her body. Micah caught her before she fell to the concrete steps. He held her as she cried. “I’m sorry, Isabella. I’m so very sorry.” She clutched at him as sobs racked her body. Colt was dead. He’d been killed just like she’d warned him would happen. Just like she’d told him he deserved. How could she do that? She hadn’t meant it. Isabella cried so hard she made herself sick so Micah scooped her up into his harms and carried her inside. One of the agents directed him to her room. With a caring gentleness, he carried her to her bed and laid her down on it. He smoothed her hair and once more told her how sorry he was. She rolled to her side and cried, wishing she could take back all the hateful things she’d ever said to Colt. She didn’t hear Micah leave the room. About an hour later, Isabella woke, her head aching, her body feeling drained and sickly. She climbed from her bed and moved to look out the window. She put her forehead against the cool glass. Colt was gone. How would she go on without him? She didn’t want to and didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything anymore. The man she loved was dead. She choked back a sob.

Her mother called from the hospital to tell her that her father was fine. He’d be home in a day or two, and Isabella did her best to cover her sorrow, but her mother asked her what was wrong. Isabella excused her sadness with worry over her father, but she doubted it convinced her mother. She cut the call short before her mother pressed her further. How could she explain to her mother that the man she loved was dead, and that he was one of Barkley’s men? Shaking her head in despair and grief, she curled up on her bed again. When someone knocked on her door she didn’t want to see anyone but knew if she didn’t answer, it would cause alarm. It was one of the agents asking if she wanted something to eat. She told him she didn’t, but asked him if Micah was still around. The agent told her he was gone, and closed the door. She should have known Micah wouldn’t stick around. He was an FBI Agent and he had better things to do than to babysit her. She wanted to talk to him though. He’d seemed close to Colt, even though they had been on opposite sides of the law. When her bedroom door burst open, it startled her, but when she saw Patsy come rushing in, she burst into tears again. Her best friend came straight to the bed, pulling Isabella into her arms. Feeling like she was drowning in grief, Isabella grasped onto her and wept. “Oh my God! Bella, I was so terrified for you. I’m so glad you’re okay,” Patsy cried out, hugging her tight and rocking her.

An agent stepped into the room. “Miss, you’ll have to leave, you’re not supposed to be in here.” Patsy turned and glared at him like she was Isabella’s protector. “Just try to get me out of here.” Isabella smiled a real smile for the first time in hours. Patsy was a wild whirlwind of a woman. She may be only five foot four, but when defending those she cared about she was a force to be reckoned with. Her dark blonde hair hung past her shoulders, streaked with lighter shades. She had freckles sprinkled across her pert nose and where most would expect her eyes to be blue or green, instead they were a dark brown. She was a little thing, but she had a body and face that could stop traffic. She was a breath of fresh air wherever she went, and Isabella adored her. She watched Patsy glare at the agent, daring him to try to remove her. In the end, he nodded in defeat and closed the door behind him when he left. Patsy turned back to Isabella. “How did you get here so fast from Oregon?” Isabella asked her dearest friend, grateful to have her here—especially now. “I’ve been here since you were taken. I refused to stay back there, not knowing what was happening, and worrying. I’ve been staying right here in the mansion with your parents.” Patsy sighed and frowned at her. “I was so scared for you when I heard you went with those men when they shot up the ball. Why would you do that?” Isabella stared at her friend, surprised she had to ask if she knew what happened. “I had to, Pats. They were going to kill everyone if I didn’t. The police had already gotten Daddy and

Mom out so Barkley was angry. He’d already shot one person and was going to start shooting more.” She shrugged and felt tears welling up again in her eyes. “What else could I do?” Patsy nodded and swallowed hard. “I’m so sorry about Harrison. I know you loved him more like an uncle than a godfather.” Isabella pulled Patsy into a tight hug and let her tears loose. Patsy rocked her back and forth trying to soothe her, but Isabella cried even harder. “Bella, please…honey, you’re going to make yourself sick.” Isabella pulled back and looked at her. “I loved him so…” “I know, honey, and he loved you.” Isabella shook her head. “Not Harrison. I loved him, yes, but I’m not crying about him.” Patsy frowned at her. “Then who?” Clasping her friend’s hands in her lap, she took a deep breath and looked up at Patsy. “I fell in love with one of Barkley’s men,” she whispered, not wanting anyone to overhear. Patsy gasped. “Are you serious?” Isabella nodded. “How did that happen? Are you sure it wasn’t that syndrome thing?” She waved her hand as if reaching for the name. “Stockholm syndrome,” she interjected. “No, it isn’t that. I’m twenty-six years old, I’m sure I know what love is. Colt was…well, he was amazing and I will love him until the day I die.”

“He was arrested?” Patsy asked in a curious, hopeful voice. Isabella felt a tear roll down her cheek, and shook her head, swallowing back more tears. “No…oh God, Patsy…he was…he was killed.” She choked on the words. Patsy gasped, pulled her into her arms, and uttered soothing words as she rubbed her hand up and down Isabella’s back. Together, they held onto each other and cried. “Tell me about him, Bella,” Patsy requested in a gentle, loving voice. Isabella took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. “Oh, Patsy, I knew the minute I saw him. I was feeling things I shouldn’t but couldn’t help it. He was so gorgeous, tall, and built, with the blackest hair you’ve ever seen. He has —had the most beautiful green eyes. I fell fast and I fell hard.” She stopped, covering her face with her hands wishing she would stop crying. “Did he feel the same, Bella?” Hearing Patsy call her by the same pet name as Colt tore at her heart but comforted her too. “He never said it, but I’m sure he did. We were so into each other and now—now, he’s gone.” Patsy hugged her and did what a best friend does best. She held her while listening with an open heart. “I need to know where they’re going to…bury him. I want to go there.” “How can we find out? Who would know?” Patsy asked.

Isabella climbed off the bed and walked to the door, opening it. Immediately, an agent appeared just as she suspected since she knew there were several around yet, as two of Barkley’s men were still at large. The agent raised a questioning eyebrow at her. “I need to speak with Agent Turner. Is he still in Wyoming?” “Yes, ma’am, he’s not scheduled to leave for Denver until tomorrow. I’ll call him for you.” Isabella nodded her thanks, and closed the door, returned to the bed, and took a seat beside Patsy, who took her hand in hers. “Who’s Agent Turner?” she asked. Isabella smiled thinking of Micah. “He was working undercover as one of Barkley’s men. He was always nice to me and he seemed close to Colt. I guess it was part of his job, to get close to them, I mean.” Her words ended in a sob. When someone knocked on the door, Isabella cleared her throat and called out permission to enter. The agent she’d talked to about Micah stuck his head in the door. “Excuse me. Agent Turner said he’ll be here within the hour, Miss Lofton.” She thanked him, and he pulled the door closed. “Did you and Colt…um, you know?” “Have sex?” Patsy nodded. “Yes, and it was amazing. I’ve never felt like that before. I love him, Patsy, so very much. How am I going to go on without him? Even if it had ended

with him arrested and sent to jail, I would’ve waited for him. I don’t care what kind of man he is…was, I love him.” “You’re strong, Bella. You’ll get past this. It may not seem like it now, but you will.” Isabella shook her head. “I won’t, I know. He’ll always be the love of my life.” She stood and moved toward the window. “I’ve made some decisions. I’m quitting the firm. I’m going to do what I really want. I’ve realized life is way too short to do only what’s expected of you. I should do what I want.” She glanced back at her friend. “I’m going to buy a house with some acreage, get some dogs, and horses. I’m going to write the next great novel. I’ve wanted to write for years so now I’m going to do it.” Patsy smiled, leaning back against the bed. “I know you’ve always wanted to write. The stories you’ve let me read are amazing. So yeah, do it. I’ll be there for you, no matter what.” “I’ve decided to look for a home in Dry River, Wyoming, it’s where Colt came from. He was born and raised there, and he told me he has…had friends there. I want to meet them.” She shrugged. “I have no idea how I’ll find them, but Colt said it was a small town so I’m sure if I ask around, someone will know where I can find his friends.” While they waited for Micah, they sat together and talked about Colt and the future. When a sudden knock sounded on the door, Isabella didn’t get a chance to give her permission before it flew open and Micah Turner strode in. He scowled at

Isabella, and then his attention shifted to Patsy, but then he looked back to Isabella. “What is it, Isabella? This had better be important,” he growled, obviously perturbed at her summoning him. “Well, aren’t you pleasant?” Patsy interjected. Micah turned toward her and Isabella saw him narrow his eyes at Patsy. “Who the hell are you anyway?” Micah asked, placing his hands on his hips. Patsy stood. “I’m her friend. She needs some information and thought you could help her, although why she’d want your help is beyond me. So put the big bad agent attitude away.” Isabella watched the muscle in Micah’s jaw twitch so she suspected he was clenching his teeth to keep from saying something he shouldn’t. Patsy had that effect on some people. “What do you want to know, Isabella?” “I want to know where they’ve taken Colt’s…” “I can’t tell you that. It’s—” Micah began but didn’t get far. “Why can’t you tell her? She just wants to know where he’s being buried. Wouldn’t you want to visit where someone you loved was buried?” Patsy put her hands on her slim hips and glared up at him. “If you hadn’t interrupted me, I was going to say that it’s not something we’re told. I’m sure he was sent back to his family.” Micah glared down at Patsy, and then shifted his gaze

to Isabella. “You have to let this go, Isabella. I’m really sorry, but I don’t know what else to tell you.” Isabella went to him and put her arms around his waist hugging him. “You liked him, didn’t you, Micah?” She felt his body tense against hers. She knew she was right. He finally wrapped his arms around her, hugging her to him. “Yes, I did like him. He was a great guy,” he said in a low voice against her hair. Isabella looked up at him. “I just want to pay my respects. I love him, Micah.” Micah pulled back from her, releasing her. He cleared his throat. “I appreciate that, but I can’t help you with it, Isabella. I’m sorry,” Micah said in a very official voice without looking at her, but when he turned to leave the room, Isabella saw him glance at Patsy, who was staring at him as if she was about to say something, but then he gave a slight shake of his head, and she looked like the air went out of her. Her shoulders slumped and she gave him a nod. When Micah reached the door, he stopped, and then turned to look at Isabella. “If you need anything, Isabella, anything other than info on Colt…call me.” Then he was gone, closing the door behind him.

Chapter Eight

Maria Lofton was worried about her daughter. She wasn’t the lively young woman she used to be. Something more than the kidnapping had changed her. Maria knew the situation Isabella went through was rough on her, but she usually bounced back quickly from anything difficult. It had been two months since she came home and Isabella still seemed to be in a fog. Even her best friend, Patsy, didn’t know what to do to help. Isabella had shocked everyone when she quit the law firm and sold her condo. She’d been staying at the mansion, but was constantly looking at homes for sale in northern Wyoming. She had told Maria she wanted to buy a house, and raise dogs and horses. Maria knew of her daughter’s dreams of her own home, and writing. She didn’t begrudge her daughter her dreams, but being in the funk she was, it was hard to imagine her even getting started. She just wished she knew what was going on in Isabella’s head and her heart. She’d been so happy to see her father come home from the hospital, but it hadn’t been long after that she went back to being sullen. It confused Maria because she was at a loss to know what was going on with Isabella. She loved

her daughter so much, and she suspected she was hiding something that was causing her a world of hurt. Nothing was the same since she came home from her time in the hands of that monster, Barkley. The other two men, Rodgers and Lewis, remained at large, and although the FBI felt they wouldn’t attempt another attack on the governor or his family, there were still agents assigned to protect them. Maria knew Barton was glad his daughter had decided to come home and stay, if for no other reason but her safety. He also knew about the home she was looking for and why, and like her, was supportive of his daughter’s dreams, but the two of them hoped she’d remain home until the FBI captured the last two men. It was possible they may have left the country and weren’t even interested in revenge for their boss’s death. After all, they did double cross Barkley, so the thinking was that they were long gone. That would be a good thing, but they still needed to go to trial, and Maria knew the lawyer in Barton Lofton was still alive and well. **** Isabella sat in her room and looked through the real estate magazine she’d bought. She glanced up when her mother entered her room. They smiled at each other, and then her mother took a seat on the bed next to her, running a hand over her daughter’s hair. “Have you found anything yet?” Maria asked her, looking over at the magazine.

“No, but I’m just starting to go through this one. What’s bad is they all seem to list the available homes together, and the same ones are in each magazine.” Maria laughed softly. “You’ll find something, honey.” She took a deep breath and exhaled. “Isabella, is there anything you want to talk about? You know you can tell me anything.” Isabella looked into her mother’s concerned eyes, and wished she could explain. “No, nothing. I’m fine, Mom.” Maria shook her head and sighed. “No, Isabella, you’re not fine, but if you don’t want to talk about it, I understand.” Isabella blinked back tears. During the day, she tried her best to keep the tears at bay but at night, she’d bury her head in her pillow and cry herself to sleep. With all her heart, she wished Colt were there with her, holding her. She asked God every night why he brought Colt into her life only to take him away. He never answered. She’d always believed that everything happened for a reason. What was the reason for meeting the love of her life only to have him taken away so quickly? She choked back a sob. Her mother would be shocked to learn about Colt, and it would do no one any good to tell her. She shook her head, leaned over, and kissed her mother’s cheek. “I will be fine, eventually. It’s nothing I want to worry you with right now. One day, I’ll tell you everything but for now, I’m just not ready.” Maria hugged her, but then nearly fell off the bed when Isabella jumped up with an excited squeal.

“Oh my God, Mom! This is it,” she exclaimed, pointing to a picture of a house as she sat back down and held up the magazine. Her mother leaned over to look at it. Isabella stared at the house with pure joy—a lovely white Cape Cod style home with a front porch that stretched across the entire front of the house. The shutters were red, a swing hung at one end of the porch, and the driveway curved in a circle in front. Located to the right of the house was a stable with fenced-in corrals. She tried to make out the interior from the pictures in the magazine but they were too small. Pulling her laptop close, she quickly found the site, entered the listing number, and within seconds, the house popped up on the screen. It was beautiful. She smiled at her mother, who was now fully intrigued. The kitchen had all new black appliances. The floor was cherry hardwood, the same as the cabinets. She nearly squealed again when she saw there was a large garden window above the country sink. She’d fill it with houseplants. The next picture was of the dining room. It wasn’t large, but there was a big picture window on one wall and another doorway which led to the foyer. The more she read about the house, the more she fell in love with it. The floor in the foyer was the same beautiful cherry hardwood as in in the kitchen. Reading further, she realized the entire house had the hardwood floors throughout it. How wonderful! The living room boasted a huge fireplace and a large window facing the circular drive and front porch. The open stairwell in the foyer led upstairs where there were three

bedrooms. The master suite had its own bathroom, but there was another full bath at the top of the stairs and a half bath down stairs. Isabella was totally in love with the house. She read more and when she discovered it had ten acres of fenced land, she knew it was the perfect place. Excited, she smiled at her mother as she reached for the phone. After speaking to the agent and setting up a time to view it, she hung up and hugged her mother, feeling truly happy for the first time in a very long time. “I can’t wait to see it. Do you want to go with me tomorrow?” “I’d love to, honey, but I have a luncheon tomorrow. I’m sorry, but I bet Patsy would love to go with you,” Maria told her with a big smile. Isabella had no doubt that was true. She hurried to the hallway and called out for her best friend. Patsy came running and after Isabella told her about the house, she agreed to go with her and hugged her with excitement. The home was inside Dry River but with ten acres, she was going to be able to have her animals and her privacy. For the first time in months, she was happy about something, but it still hurt to think about the house and that Colt wouldn’t be there to share it with her. Isabella bit her bottom lip and blinked back tears, wishing her emotions would stop running so high. When would the tears stop? When would the pain go away? When would she no longer see his face when she closed her eyes? She had no answers for any of those questions. The only one she had an

answer for was, when would she stop loving him, and the answer to that was never. He would forever be in her heart. The thought of ever being with another man was so foreign to her, in both her mind and her heart, that she could never see it happening. She never wanted it to happen. No man could or would ever replace Colt Raines. The next day, the sun was shining down and the temperatures rising. It was a beautiful summer day. Isabella and Patsy were on their way to see the house. Isabella was excited. She knew Patsy was happy for her, but still worried about her. She also knew Patsy could tell she was still crying over Colt. She couldn’t hide it from her. Patsy knew her too well. It had only been two months and Isabella knew Patsy was giving her time to get over it, but Isabella knew in her heart she would never get over Colt. Three hours later, they pulled through the gate and drove up the drive to the house. Isabella had the most overwhelming sense of feeling as if she’d just come home. She smiled and squeezed Patsy’s hand. The real estate agent stood on the porch waiting for them. Patsy and Isabella got out of the car, and looked around at the grounds. Patsy smiled at her. “I think it’s you,” she told Isabella, and she honestly had to agree. Isabella felt like a kid at Christmas as they walked toward the front porch to meet the agent, who came down the steps and introduced herself. She looked at Isabella with a small frown of confusion on her face. “I’m sorry, but you look so familiar to me. I don’t mean to stare but have we met before?” she asked with a friendly

chuckle. Isabella and Patsy glanced at each other and shrugged. Isabella explained who she was and the agent’s eyes widened. “I should’ve known by your name. Boy, you’ve been through a lot lately. Glad to see you’re doing so well,” she said with a smile. “Let’s go inside, and I’ll show you this lovely home.” Two hours later, Isabella was even more in love with the home. After going through the stables, she knew absolutely that she had to have it. She told the agent she wanted it and made an offer on it. The agent told her she’d call her later after speaking with the seller. Isabella was thrilled and couldn’t wait to get started. As they drove home, she thought of Colt. Would he have liked the home? She had to pull off the road because she couldn’t see for the tears in her eyes. She put her forehead on the steering wheel and wept for what felt like the millionth time since Micah brought her home. She felt Patsy rubbing her back, but not saying anything. Isabella raised her head, and beat her fist on the steering wheel. She hurt so much. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She wasn’t sure how long they’d been sitting there when a police officer tapped on the window. Startled, she wiped her eyes and lowered the window. Using a headache as an excuse for stopping on the side of the road, he seemed to believe her and let her go with a warning to be careful. Once home, she left Patsy downstairs and quietly went to her room where she showered, climbed onto the bed, closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep.

Colt was running toward her. He was calling her name. She tried telling him where she was, but he didn’t see her. He was running right at her, but couldn’t see her. She kept yelling his name to let him know where she was, but he ran right past her. She cried out for him to no avail. “Isabella! I love you, princess. Come to me, please,” Colt called out to her. “Colt…I’m here! Please, see me…I’m right here!” “I love you, Bella. I will always love you! Forever, darlin’, forever,” he told her, but then his voice faded away. “Colt! No…please stay with me, Colt. Come back!” Isabella jerked awake and gazed up at her mother, who wore a concerned expression. She threw herself into her mother’s arms. Her mother held and rocked her while she sobbed against her shoulder. Her mother continued to hold her until her tears slowly subsided. Exhausted, and feeling too warm, Isabella lay back down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. She felt the bed shift when her mother stood, and a few moments later, her mother pulled her hands from her face and placed a cool damp washcloth across her hot forehead. “Who’s Colt?” her mother asked, her voice filled with compassion. Isabella flinched, and looked up at her. “How did you know?” “You were screaming out his name. That’s why I came in, you were dreaming and obviously something was upsetting you,” she said with a loving smile. “You love him.”

It wasn’t a question. Isabella nodded. “Yes, Mom, I do, but it doesn’t matter.” “Why doesn’t it matter? He’s crazy if he doesn’t love you back,” she said smoothing back damp hair from Isabella’s face. She smiled down at her. Isabella’s heart ached as the words caught in her throat. “He’s dead,” she whispered. Her mother gasped in horror. “Oh! Isabella, honey, I’m so sorry. No wonder you’ve been sulking around and didn’t want to talk about it. You could’ve told me. Why didn’t you?” “You wouldn’t understand, Mom. It’s complicated, and I’m really trying to get past it, but it’s been so hard for me. I love him so very much.” “Why wouldn’t I understand?” Isabella laid one arm over her eyes. “He was one of Barkley’s men.” The silence was palpable. Her mother stood and walked toward the window. Isabella watched her stand there with her back to her wishing she could see the expression on her mother’s face. Neither said anything for a few minutes, but then she heard her mother sigh before turning. “How did he feel about you?” Isabella glanced toward the ceiling, and then looked at her mother. She wasn’t sure she understood why her mother would ask that particular question. “He never told me how he felt, but neither did I. I do believe he felt the same though.”

Her mother nodded. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, honey. I really am.” She walked toward the bed, leaned in to kiss Isabella on her forehead, and then turned to leave the room. “You aren’t angry with me?” Isabella asked. Her mother turned and smiled lovingly at her. “Why should I be? You loved him. We don’t get to choose who we love. It’s just so sad that if only he hadn’t been involved with the wrong men, he’d be alive now.” She left, quietly closing the door behind her. Isabella lay on the bed mulling over her mother’s words. What she’d said was so true. Had Colt not been involved with Barkley, he’d be here today—with her. It was his fault. He’d been involved with a bad group of men and he died because of it. Why should she cry over him anymore? He’d be here today, with her, if he’d been a good man. Then again, had he not been with Barkley, she might never have met him. She rolled over and hugged her pillow. Sobbing into it because she knew it didn’t matter. Good or bad, she loved him and she always would. The real estate agent called the next day and told her the seller had accepted her offer. The next step was going through the bank for a mortgage. After they hung up, Isabella began to worry. How would she get a mortgage without a job? She was going to lose her dream home unless she did the one thing she hadn’t wanted to do. Taking a deep breath, she went downstairs to her father’s study. He told her to come in when she knocked and invited her to sit. “What’s up, pretty girl?” Barton smiled at his daughter.

Isabella sat in a wingback chair opposite her father’s huge mahogany desk. Bookshelves filled with law books lined the wall behind him. Family pictures covered the wall to his right, and the opposite wall held his framed law degrees and diplomas. The large Oriental rug on the floor covered most of the hardwood floor. Her father stared at her. She knew he was waiting for her to tell him why she’d asked to talk to him. “Isabella?” he said in a quiet yet commanding voice. “You’re glancing around the room like a guilty woman. A sure sign you have something to ask me.” “Daddy, I want to buy the house,” she blurted out without ceremony. “So, buy it. What’s stopping you?” He chuckled. “For one, the fact that I don’t have a job,” she answered in a low embarrassed voice. Her father leaned back into his chair and raised his eyebrows, but then he stood and walked around the desk to take a seat on the corner of it, folding his arms across his chest. “I’ll do whatever I can to help you get your dream home, honey. You know that.” Isabella looked up at him and smiled. She stood and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you, Daddy. Once I start making money, I promise I’ll pay you back,” she told him. He shook his head and pressed a kiss to her hair. “I just want my baby girl to be happy. You haven’t been lately, and I want you back to your old self. So if this helps.”

She gazed at him with tears in her eyes. “I wish it was that easy, Daddy.” His arms pulled her in tight and just as she had when she was a little girl and she was hurting, she cried on his shoulder. Back then, he could take her pain away, but now it wasn’t so easy. Isabella knew of nothing or no one who could take away the pain she felt from losing the man she loved. The thought of going on without him made her heart ache as if she would die from it. The comfort she felt in her father’s arms was only temporary, but it helped. Colt was dead and she was trying to make a life without him but even his not being here with her overshadowed the joy of finding the perfect new home. Colt was the man she wanted to share it with, the man she wanted to marry and have children with, and grow old with. Even if he’d survived, he would be in prison but at least then, she’d be able to see him, talk to him—love him. Isabella pulled back to gaze up at her father. “I love you, Daddy, thank you.” “I love you too, sweetheart. I wish I could take away the pain you’re suffering but I can’t help if I don’t know what’s wrong. Can’t you tell me what’s wrong? I’ll do my best to make it right.” She choked back a sob. “Oh, Daddy! You can’t make it right. No one can. It’s something I just have to learn to live with,” she said shaking her head. “I’d love to say I’ll get over it but I honestly don’t think I will—ever.” “Oh, Isabella, you’re breaking my heart,” her father exclaimed, pulling her close in a tight embrace as she cried out her grief.

**** Mont struggled to climb out from the darkness. He was sure he could see light but he couldn’t get to it. Where in the hell was he? Why wasn’t someone helping him? He tried to call out, but no sound came from him, and he couldn’t move. Where was he? His eyelids felt as if they’d never open again, weighed down, and filled with grit. He had to get out of here, out of this hell. Suddenly, he was able to shout, he heard his own voice then he felt hands on him, holding him down. He swung his hands up to grab the person holding him down, at first fighting whoever it was but when he heard a familiar voice, he relaxed. “Mont, hey man! Calm down,” Micah told him. Mont slowly opened his eyes. The light around him hurt them. A woman stood over him, staring down at him. A bright light hovered behind her. Shit! He was dead. Was he? “Am I dead?” he asked his voice sounding rusty and hoarse. The words grated against the back of his throat. He cleared his throat. “I thought I heard…” “No, you’re not dead, Mr. Bradford. Take a sip of water, it will help.” She held a Styrofoam cup with a straw in it to his lips. Mont sipped it and wanted more, but she set it back down. “Go slow on the water.” “Where am I?” “You don’t remember?” Micah asked, his brows knitting together.

Mont’s eyes shifted to his friend. “Micah?” “Yeah, it’s me. Do you remember anything?” Mont shook his head slowly, and then gazed around the room. “Hospital?” Micah nodded pulling a chair up close to the side of the bed, and sat down. He glanced up at the nurse. “When will the doctor be in?” She smiled at him in a flirtatious way, which didn’t escape even Mont. “He’s on his way. As soon as we knew Mr. Bradford was waking up, we sent for the doctor.” With another smile for Micah, she headed out of the room, leaving the door propped open. “Christ, Mont. You scared the shit out of me,” Micah muttered squeezing Mont’s arm. Mont stared at him. “I scared the shit out of you? What happened? Was I shot?” Micah nodded. “It was bad then, huh?” Micah nodded again. “For Christ’s sake, Micah, quit bobbing your head like a fucking bobble head and tell me what happened.” Micah chuckled. “Good to see you back, buddy.” Mont closed his eyes against the pain in his eyes and now that he was aware of it, in his head. “Just tell me.” “You were shot in the back of the head. The doctor said he didn’t know how you even survived, other than sheer willpower.”

Mont raised his hand to the back of his head, but all he felt was hair. There was no bandage. “In the back of my head? Where? I don’t feel any bandage.” “Your hair’s grown back over it,” Micah told him. “My hair’s grown…how?” “That wound is healed, Mont. It’s been a while.” “How long is a while, Micah?” “Eight months.” “What?” Mont yelled in surprise. The doctor came through the door. “We don’t like yelling in our hospital, Mr. Bradford.” Mont narrowed his eyes at the doctor more from annoyance than the pain anymore. “What the hell do you expect? I don’t remember any of the past eight months.” “You wouldn’t. You were in a coma,” the doctor explained, looking at Mont’s chart. Mont couldn’t comprehend what the doctor just told him. “A coma?” When the doctor nodded, Mont glanced over to Micah, who sat in the chair staring at him. “Really? Eight months?” “Yes,” Micah told him in a low voice. Mont rested his head back against his pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Eight months of his life were gone. Why couldn’t he remember anything?

“Will I get my memory back? Wait a minute. I remember Micah, how is that?” “You may not remember events but people you see, you may remember them all.” Micah stood quickly. “Are you saying he’ll only remember people he sees, and none of those he doesn’t?” Mont wanted to hear the answer to that question too. He gazed up at the doctor and watched as he blew out a breath. “The mind is a mystery. We don’t really know which people from your past you will or won’t remember. I believe you remember your friend here, because he’s here with you and you’re close. Others from your past, I can’t be sure. Do you remember anyone else? Can you think of the names of other friends?” Mont thought for a moment, and then nodded. “I think so —Lucas Taggart, Cooper Lang, Dakota Walker, Lincoln Cole, and Storm Bateman.” He glanced at Micah, who nodded and gave him a thumbs up sign. “Those are guys I grew up with in Dry River, Wyoming. Of course, I remember my mother too. I also remember that I’m an FBI agent.” “What about your father?” the doctor asked seemingly impressed. “I never knew him. So I remember my friends and family and that I’m an agent, but not what happened to get me shot.” “You don’t remember anyone else?” Micah asked in a quiet voice, his brows knitted together again. Mont looked at him. “Should I? Am I married or something?”

Suddenly, the vision of a beautiful redhead flashed through his mind but she was gone almost as fast as she came. He frowned at Micah, wondering what he wasn’t saying. “No. You’re not married…or something.” Micah ran his hand over his whiskered jaw and stood patting Mont’s arm. “I’m going to call the boss and tell him you’re awake. I’ll be back later.” “Micah,” Mont called after him, stopping him in his tracks as he moved toward the door. When he spun around, Mont narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re holding something back. What is it?” “Nothing you need to worry about right now. Get some rest, buddy.”

Chapter Nine

Mont clenched his teeth together as the physical therapist put him through exercises to help him regain his strength and muscle mass. She’d told him they kept most of his muscles in shape by coming into his room every day and moving them but he’d need to work hard to get his full strength back. “I take it I didn’t bitch as much then,” he growled, pushing his body harder. The therapist laughed. “We don’t get cussed out as much that way.” “I can barely stand. How long will that last?” “We’ll have you up and walking soon, Mr. Bradford,” she told him. “Don’t you think since you’re putting your hands all over me, you could call me Mont?” He grinned at her, and when she blushed, he chuckled. “I must be getting better since I can make a beautiful woman blush again.” Suddenly, smiling blue eyes and flushed cheeks flashed through his mind making him frown. Was there another woman he enjoyed making blush? “Jesus, quit flirting and get your ass back to work,” Micah said from the doorway, one hand in his trouser pocket with his

jacket pushed back so his badge was showing. Mont laughed. “You’re just jealous.” Micah grunted as he pushed away from the door and walked toward him. “Are you feeling better?” he asked Mont while he winked at the therapist, who blushed again. He laughed. “See? I can do it too.” “I’ll let you two have some time alone for a few minutes. I’ll get you some water and I’ll be right back,” the therapist told them, looking directly at Mont as she spoke before hurrying from the room. Both men laughed, watching her trot off. “Seriously, Mont, how are you feeling?” Micah asked with a serious expression this time. “Like I’ve been hit by a truck a few times. She’s tough, but I know it’s helping me. I can move more on my own every day. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a month already. Once I can exercise on my own, I’ll get back in shape in no time. I want to do that before I see Isabella…” he stuttered to a halt and stared up at Micah. “Holy…Micah, I remember Isabella.” Then he turned his glare on his friend, perhaps former friend if he didn’t answer correctly. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me about her? You son of a bitch. Where is she?” “Damn, Mont, I didn’t intend to not tell you. I just wasn’t going to mention her if you couldn’t remember her. It would have driven you crazy trying to remember,” Micah answered, running his fingers through his hair.

“I remember it all now. Being undercover to get Barkley, his kidnapping her instead of her father—Governor Lofton. I fell in love with her while watching over her, trying to keep Barkley from killing her, and then I was shot protecting her father.” He glared at Micah. “Damn you!” “You can damn me all you want to, Mont, but I did the right thing. Why would I tell you about a woman you were in love with but couldn’t remember? Look, get yourself better then go find her. I’ll see what I can do to find out where she is. Once you get better, I’ll tell you but until then, don’t even ask.” Before he had a chance to argue the point, Micah turned and strode from the room. Mont picked up an empty water bottle and hurled it at the door, just missing the therapist as she returned. “Sorry,” he muttered, wishing he could see his Bella. **** Mont worked hard every day to get his body back into shape. He’d always prided himself on keeping in shape and soon his hard pecs and six-pack abs began forming again. It wouldn’t be long before he could go to Isabella. What he couldn’t get past was that she hadn’t been to see him, which brought Micah to mind. The last time Micah came in to visit him, it had ended in a shouting match between them. “Why hasn’t Isabella been here to see me?” Mont had asked, wanting to know more about her.

“I have no clue,” Micah told him, seemingly all too innocent. Mont sneered. “Now why don’t I believe you?” “I really don’t care what you believe, Mont,” Micah replied. His voice rose, a sure sign he was lying. “She should be here to see me.” “She doesn’t know you’re alive,” Micah blurted out in frustration. “What the fuck did you just say to me?” “Shit, Mont. She was told you died. It was the right decision at the time.” “The hell it was,” Mont roared, his anger making him wish he could destroy something. “Yes, it was! Would you want her sitting here day in and day out watching over you in a coma with no guarantee you’d wake up? Sitting here, staring at a man who had a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving?” “That wasn’t your decision to make. It was hers. Fuck you, Micah. Get out. Get the fuck out of here,” Mont growled between clenched teeth. Micah stared at him for a full minute before he spun around and left. That was three weeks ago and Micah hadn’t been back. Mont stared out the window at the gray darkening sky. Storm clouds had rolled in and rain threatened to spill from them. It fit his mood. He wanted out of here so he could find Isabella. He had to let her know he was alive and that he loved her.

What if she’s moved on and found someone else? It had been almost a year now and she was a young, beautiful woman. God, he missed her so much. Her soft skin, her beautiful shimmering red hair, and those freckles he loved to kiss. His dick twitched at the thought of her. At least that muscle was working fine. Mont was almost back to his former self. After two months of grueling physical therapy and the gym, he was going to walk out of this hospital in two more weeks with finding Isabella at the top of his list of things to do. A week later, Micah slipped into his hospital room, standing near the door staring at him. Mont huffed, and then motioned him in. “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Micah. I did a lot of thinking and as much as I don’t like what you did, I know you did the right thing.” Micah gave a nod. “It wasn’t just my decision, Mont. Your mom thought it was best too.” “I know that now. Mom told me yesterday. She claimed it was mostly her call.” Mont shook his head. “I still have to find her though. I love her and I need to tell her.” “I found her,” Micah said, glancing at a piece of paper he had carried in his hand. “Where is she?” Micah blew out a breath. “In Dry River.” “My Dry River?” Mont asked, not sure he’d heard right. “Why is she there?”

“I guess she wanted to be close to you in some way. She bought a house with some acreage there.” Mont chuckled. “It’s what she said she always wanted to do. Take care of animals too.” He pushed to his feet. “I need to go to her.” “You need to stay right here for one more week. Get as healthy as you can, Mont, and then you can go to her.” Mont knew Micah was right. He put out his hand for the piece of paper, and to shake his friend’s hand. “All right, but I will go to her. I just hope she understands everything.” **** Isabella stood in her stable talking to her horses. Something some people might consider crazy, but she loved talking to them as if they were people. They listened much more intently than most people did. She smiled thinking how true that was. When she heard a car pull up, she strolled out of the stable and smiled when she saw Patsy getting out of her car. They met up halfway and hugged. “I thought maybe you weren’t going to get here today.” Isabella said. “I was finally able to get away from the shelter. By the way, there’s a new dog that you’d love.” Patsy laughed. She’d moved to Dry River to be close to her friend. Patsy worked at the local animal hospital, and volunteered at the shelter. “Good Lord, Patsy. I have five dogs now.” “Yeah, so what’s one more?” Patsy laughed.

Isabella shook her head at her and looped her arm through hers. “Let’s go in and I’ll make us lunch.” Patsy looked around. “You’ve made this place even more beautiful. The flowers will be blooming soon.” “I know. I can’t wait to see them in bloom,” Isabella said with pride, glancing around the yard. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been here eight months already and that it’s been almost a year since…” Isabella noted the worry in Patsy’s eyes, so she mustered up a small smile, hooked her arm through her friend’s and together they headed inside. She made them some sandwiches and they had a leisurely lunch. Patsy showed Isabella pictures of the new dog at the shelter. “Oh, Patsy, she’s so pretty. Is she a full-blooded Rottweiler?” “Yes, and she’s already house trained. She’s very smart too. She’d fit right in out here.” Isabella narrowed her eyes at her, and then laughed because she knew Patsy had shown her the beautiful dog knowing she couldn’t resist her. “I’ll think about it.” Patsy grinned, gathered up her pictures, leaving one on the table, and told her she needed to get going. “I’m so close to getting my vet degree. I want to help out more at the animal hospital.” “You’re such a softie.” Isabella wanted the best for her best friend.

“Yeah, and you’re not?” Patsy sarcastically teased her back. Both women laughed, and after walking Patsy to her car, she hugged her tight. She was so happy to have her living close. Patsy drove off, and Isabella returned to the stables. A few minutes passed and she heard a car come up the drive. Chuckling to herself, she told the horses that Patsy must have forgotten something. Walking back into the sunshine with a smile on her face and a sarcastic tease on her lips, she stopped dead in her tracks when she saw a man with black hair standing by his car, staring at the house. Wondering who he was and what he wanted, she cautiously moved closer. When he turned to face her, she gasped so loud, she nearly choked. She shook her head, thinking she was seeing things. “Colt?” **** Mont stared at her with tears in his eyes, and then strolled toward her, wanting only to wrap his arms around her and never let go. “Yeah, Bella, it’s me.” He caught Isabella in his arms right before she hit the ground. “Shit!” Carrying her to the back door, he hoped it was unlocked. Finding it was, he opened the door. Five dogs greeted him with ferocious growls.

“Give it to me later, guys. Your mistress has fainted on me.” He headed through a doorway, only to end up in the dining room. Cursing under his breath and with the dogs following him, he turned in another direction, which led him to the foyer. “God damn it! Where the hell is the living room?” he groaned, looking to the dogs as if they’d tell him. Finally, he found the living room and laid her on the couch. He looked her over, taking in every inch of her. God, he’d missed her so much. He patted her cheek lightly in an attempt to wake her gently. Isabella moaned and slowly opened her eyes. She blinked her eyes, widening them as she looked up at him. “Am I dreaming?” she whispered. He grinned happily. “No, darlin’. It’s me.” Isabella sat up and slapped him across the face. “What the fuck was that for?” he yelled, rubbing his stinging cheek. “Are you serious? You’re dead!” she screamed at him. “Well, obviously I’m not.” Mont stood, spreading his arms and glared down at her. Then he realized his appearance must be a shock to her since she thought him dead. He dropped his arms and gave her an apologetic grin. “Princess, it’s a long story. If you’ll listen without hitting me, I’ll explain.” Isabella continued to stare at him. He knew she was having trouble comprehending the fact he was standing in her living room. He watched her eyes fill with tears.

“Colt, I don’t understand? Why…how?” “My name’s not Colt Raines, it’s actually Montgomery Bradford.” He took a seat beside her and pulled her into his arms, kissing the top of her red hair and reveling in her scent. He relaxed and closed his eyes in bliss when he felt her arms go around him. They sat there not moving for a few minutes until Isabella pulled back to stare up at him. Her hands moved over his face as if affirming it was really him. A tear slid down her cheek. He leaned forward and kissed it away. His gaze fell on her lips and he slowly lowered his head, pressing his lips to hers, softly at first, and then the kiss went deeper and harder. It had been far too long, but when her arms snaked around his neck, he grinned against her lips as she kissed him back. Leaning back, she pulled him with her as she lay back on the couch. He stretched out on top of her, and soon they’d shed their clothes in an aroused frenzy. When Mont slid into her, they both groaned. His lips never left hers. Isabella’s hands roamed all over him and his did the same to her. Mont set a rhythm and when her legs encircled him, he almost lost it. He picked up the pace and her hips moved with his. He felt her inner muscles clenching around him as her head went back and she groaned deep in her throat as she came. He put his face in her neck, growled out her name, and then collapsed on top of her. Her hands moved up and down his back. When he finally raised his head to gaze down at her, she was smiling. He kissed the tip of her nose.

“I love you, Bella. I always will,” he told her meaning every word. “I love you so much, Colt…uh…Montgomery. I still can’t believe you’re really here,” she said, her voice dropping in volume as she ran her fingers over his face. “You really are here, aren’t you? I’m not dreaming.” “Yes, princess. I’m really here and I need to explain.” He sat up, reached for his jeans, and handed hers to her. They dressed and sat back on the couch with her cradled in his arms. “I’m not one of the bad guys…” “I know you’re not. Not really,” Isabella interjected pressing a kiss to his lips. He chuckled. “No, Bella. I mean I’m really not a bad guy. I’m an FBI Agent. I was undercover.” Isabella pulled away, sat up, and glared at him. “And you didn’t tell me?” “I couldn’t. Micah and I both decided it would change your demeanor if you knew. You’d be thinking you were safe and Barkley would catch it. It was too risky.” “Why didn’t Micah tell me when I thought you were dead?” Mont shrugged. “He did what he thought was best—for you.” “You better start explaining then, and fast, Montgomery Bradford.” He hid a grin and pulled her back into his arms.

“At the cabin where we were meeting your father, well, it wasn’t going like we planned. Dayton…you remember him?” She nodded. “He started a fight with me outside. He was supposed to be in the cabin so we could get both, he and Barkley, together. When I saw he wasn’t, I started looking for him and that’s when he jumped me. We fought and I had to kill him.” Mont groaned, thinking about taking the man’s life. “When Barkley yelled for him and he didn’t show, Barkley called for me to come inside the cabin.” He shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut as the scene played out in his memory. “Bad idea. You see, the agents outside didn’t want me to go inside, but I had to or Barkley would’ve known something was up.” “But, where have you been?” Isabella asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. “I’ll get to that. Just let me tell you what happened. Please.” Isabella nodded, and he went on. “I went inside and watched Barkley toy with your father. I couldn’t do anything. I was still undercover. Even your father didn’t know I was an agent.” “But, you were in prison.” Mont gave a short nod. “I went into prison to get in tight with Barkley. He thought I was a rogue agent. It’s what we wanted him to think. We knew he’d probably have his men check me out, and if they did, the record would show they’d thrown me out of the FBI and I’d turned to the wrong side of the law. I spent over three long months in that cell next to that bastard.” He frowned remembering Barkley. “I finally got him

to trust me and I told him I could get us out of jail. He just didn’t know it was the FBI behind getting us out. In addition to Barkley, we needed to connect the men he had working on the outside and take them down too. The day you beat poor Micah over the head, Barkley finally introduced me to them. They’re the ones who were doing the kidnappings for him while he was behind bars. Now all of them, except one, are behind bars. Luckily, the boy and woman who they kidnapped are fine. The FBI hasn’t found Stewart Rodgers yet, but his partner, idiot that he is, fell for the fake story we put out that Barkley had escaped. Jack Lewis came looking for Barkley, thinking if he offered him the money they’d taken off with, he’d be accepted back. Hell, Barkley would’ve killed him, so he’s lucky the FBI was waiting instead of Barkley. He’s in jail now, but one of Barkley’s men is still missing.” “But, where have you been?” When her voice cracked, he hugged her tighter. “I’ll get to that. I have to tell you your father stood up to Barkley. I was impressed. He didn’t back down at all, and your dad got in a few good punches before Barkley shot him in the leg. That was when the agents who were outside came busting in. Any gunfire was the signal. Someone pushed me to my knees, and they were about to handcuff me when one of the other agents told him I was an agent too. When I looked up to see who the agent was, I discovered he was one of the outside men I’d met with Barkley. He was also the one who threatened to kill me. Dylan Long was also FBI undercover.” “What about Micah? Did you always know who the other really was?”

“Yeah, we did. I brought Micah in. I told Barkley he could trust him, and he did. Anyway, when I glanced up at Dylan, I saw Barkley moving on the floor. He was raising his gun at your father so I jumped up and tried to protect your dad. Just as I got to him, I heard the gun go off then felt the bullet hit me.” Isabella gasped and immediately paled. “You—you were shot?” Mont pulled her tight against him. “I was shot in the back of the head, and no one expected me to live, not even the doctors.” He glanced down at her. She was staring up at him with wide moist eyes. “No one, princess. My mother was told I wouldn’t live and the FBI was told I wouldn’t live. I believe that’s the reason why Micah didn’t tell you I was in a coma. He thought I was going to die and he didn’t want to put you through watching it happen.” He wiped tears from her cheeks and kissed her forehead. “I know it wasn’t better telling you I was dead but in all fairness to Micah, he thought I was going to die. It seems my mother agreed with the decision not to tell you. Micah told her about you, and she told me it was the hardest thing she’d ever done, sitting there and just waiting for me to die. She didn’t want you to have to do that.” “How long?” Isabella asked through her tears. “Was I in the coma?” She nodded. “Eight months. These last two months, I’ve been in physical therapy getting my strength back. I wanted to call you, but I wanted to be…whole again, before I came to you.”

Isabella climbed into his lap, and rested her head against his. “It wouldn’t have mattered to me. I’ve grieved your death for almost a year. I would’ve been more than happy just to know you were alive.” “I understand that, princess, but I wasn’t easy to live with these past two months. Even Micah couldn’t stand being around me.” “Micah knew all this time. When he said he didn’t know anything—that he couldn’t tell me. He knew.” Mont smiled at her outrage. “Don’t blame him. I told him not to tell you.” Mont kissed her. He’d looked forward to this for the last two months. It was what had kept him going. According to his doctors, he should be dead but he survived, and they were sure it was pure willpower on his part. Mont had to agree because he knew it was the thought of seeing Isabella again that kept him going. While he was in the coma, he swore he had heard Micah talking to him about Isabella, how much she loved him, and how she was waiting for him. He never asked Micah for fear he’d think he was crazy, but some day he would. “I don’t blame Micah, not really. He’s a close friend to you, isn’t he?” Mont laughed. “He’s one of my best friends. We went through the Academy together, graduated together, and became agents together.”

“I thought so. You see, after he brought me home, he left, but when he returned he was sad. I asked about you, and all he could do was shake his head. I took that as meaning you’d been killed when Barkley was.” “He must’ve gone back to the cabin to check things out. I’m not sure. We didn’t talk about it. He knew that once I woke up, I’d want to get to you. I almost didn’t.” He chuckled and she looked at him, her eyebrows pulling together in a scowl. “Micah and I had an argument about you, and it took me a while to convince him to find out where you were. He finally gave in. I have to say it was a bit of a shock when I learned you’d moved here, to Dry River.” “I did it because I thought I’d feel close to you here. After I moved here, I asked all around town if anyone knew you but no one did.” She chuckled. “Now I know why. I didn’t have the right name.” Isabella blinked tears back from her eyes. “I wanted to visit your grave but I didn’t know where it was,” she said with a big smile. “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry.” He kissed her mouth tasting salty tears. “I’ll be more than happy to introduce you to my friends. You’ll love them just like I do.” “So, you like the house, huh? I’m glad because you’ll be living here, right?” Mont chuckled. “Only if you’ll marry me.” Isabella laughed, kissed, and then hugged him. “Of course, of course I will, but you’d better come with me first. I want to show you something.”

She climbed off his lap, holding onto his hand, she halfpulled him to stand. Mont got to his feet but didn’t move forward because five dogs were growling at him again. “You need to teach these dogs to love me, princess.” Isabella giggled. “Don’t worry! They’ll love you like I do. Come on.” She tugged on his hand and he followed her up the stairs. He ran his free hand along her backside as she climbed the stairs in front of him. “Are you taking me to your bedroom, darlin’?” he asked with a sly grin. Isabella laughed at him. When they reached the upper floor, she led him to a door, opened it softly, and quietly stepped inside. Mont followed, but when she stopped just inside the room putting her finger to her lips, he glanced around the room. His heart nearly stopped when he saw two baby cribs. He glanced at her, standing in the middle of the floor smiling, and then back to the cribs. “Bella?” The question in his voice erupted in a cracked whisper. Isabella rocked on her heels. “If you remember correctly, we never used condoms.” Tears stung the backs of his eyes. “Boys or girls?” “One of each, Daddy.” Mont quietly walked over to the cribs looking down onto, first his son, and then his daughter. He fell to his knees between the cribs, and Isabella was immediately at his side.

He grabbed her and pulled her close, burying his face into her belly. “I’m so sorry…so, so sorry, Bella. You had to go through having these babies all by yourself.” “Not really. My parents were great about it and my best friend Patsy, she helped me a lot. Those babies were what kept me going. They’re a part of you.” Isabella fell down to her knees and wrapped her arms around him as he wept against her neck. She pulled back, cupping his face in her hands and softly kissed him. “You’ll be here the next time,” she said with a bright smile. “And the next one after that, and the next—” “Whoa!” Isabella laughed, quickly hushing both her and then him when he laughed too. Mont pushed to his feet, pulling her up into his arms. He glanced toward the sleeping babies and smiled. “Can I hold them?” “Of course you can. Go sit in the rocking chair and I’ll bring them to you.” Mont eagerly sat in the rocking chair and watched her pick up his son. Isabella handed the baby boy to him, and then got their daughter out and handed her to him. He had a baby in each arm and was happier than ever in his life. He looked down at their beautiful little faces, and then gazed up at Isabella. He felt a tear slip down his cheek. “They’re so beautiful. I can’t get over how much hair they have. How old are they? Two months old?” Isabella nodded. “What are their names?”

“Since I thought your name was Colt, I named our son Colton.” Mont noted how Isabella raised one eyebrow in question. She wanted to know if he approved. He did and gave her a nod of the head. He heard her let out a relieved breath. “Your daughter’s name is Miranda, but I call her Randi—after a very good friend.” He heard a profound sadness in her voice. “Her family was the one Barkley had murdered. I haven’t lost hope one day I’ll see her again.” Mont knew it hurt her not to see her friend. If she was like him, friends meant the world. “By the way, there was a blonde woman with you at the governor’s mansion after it was all over and you thought I was dead. Who was she?” Isabella looked at him strangely and probably wondered how he knew about her. “You’re talking about my best friend, Patsy Murphy. She’s the one Barkley threatened to kill if I didn’t call Daddy, but how…” Mont chuckled. “She made quite an impression on Micah,” he said with a wink of his eye. “He told me this little…pixie, as he’d called her, was like a Pit Bull around you.” Isabella laughed. “Patsy’s very protective of me.” She suddenly sobered. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without her with me.” “I know, princess, and I’m so sorry. How about your parents? I’ll bet they hate me?” “I doubt it. You gave them two beautiful grandchildren they’re already taking great pleasure in spoiling. We’ll just

explain where you’ve been. They’ll be fine with you.” Isabella moved around the room, keeping busy with baby items but all the while chewing her lip. Mont never took his eyes off her. He was sure she had something on her mind but wasn’t sure how to address it. “You can ask me anything, Bella. I’ll never lie to you again.” Isabella turned and stared at him. He’d hit a nerve and wasn’t sure he could soothe it. She sighed loudly, and came to stand in front of him. “I still don’t understand, if you and Micah were FBI, why couldn’t you let me go when I escaped. I understand why you couldn’t help, but why didn’t you just let me go when I got free?” “We weren’t bringing you back to keep you for Barkley. We were bringing you back to protect you. If you’d made it back home, Barkley or one of his men would’ve made sure you were dead. Barkley’s plan all along was to kill all of you. He planned to kill your father first, then you, and then your mother. We kept you there to make sure it didn’t happen, to protect you. It had nothing to do with us obeying Barkley.” He glanced down at his sleeping children and thanked God it had all gone well for her. “We couldn’t take a chance in letting you go, in case Barkley did get to all of you. When we found out your father had gone to the cabin, we knew then it was safe to take you home. I wanted to be the one to do it, but Barkley insisted I go with him so when he ordered Micah to take care of you, meaning kill you, I knew you’d be safe. I knew Micah, being

loyal FBI, would take you home. Micah had a rough time of it for a while. Guilt. He said I had a life ahead of me with you, and he should’ve been the one to take the bullet, not me. Of course, I told him that was bullshit. I think he’s finally getting past it now. I hope so anyway. I don’t want him blaming himself for any of that.” “I don’t either. Micah is a good guy. I like him very much.” “Good. I’m glad you approve of him because I’d love it if he were godfather to our babies. Unless you’ve got someone else in mind?” Isabella said she liked the idea and didn’t have anyone else in mind. “Actually, I’d like Patsy to be the godmother, only I’m not sure how to get her and Micah in the same room without fur flying.” Together, they laughed. The babies started to fuss. Mont looked up at her and suspected he wore a panicked expression on his face because Isabella laughed at him, and then took their daughter from his arm. After changing her, she handed the little girl back to him and repeated the chore with their son. While his son was with his mother, Mont enjoyed his little daughter. When Isabella was finished changing Colt, she handed him back and motioned for Mont to follow her downstairs. Upon entering the kitchen, Mont saw the baby seats and raised his eyebrows. “I swear I didn’t see these when I came in. My thoughts were on you and getting you to the couch. I guess I panicked when you passed out.”

“It was a shock. I thought I was hallucinating. I’d dreamed of seeing you for so long.” “I’m here now, Bella, and I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’ll need to find a job, though. I quit the agency. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Isabella wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him, looking up at him. “I think we’re good for a while. I wrote a novel. It’s been published,” she said with shy pride. “Really? What kind of novel?” He saw the flush rise on her cheeks when she glanced away for a moment. “A romance novel,” Isabella said, looking at him with anxious eyes. Mont grinned. “Well, princess, you let me know if you need any help with the sex scenes.” Isabella laughed. “Actually, I used some of your, uh… moves, in the book.” Mont burst out laughing and lifted her against him. “Well, darlin’, just let me know how I can help and I’ll be more than willing to come up with some new ones. I’m not sure what I want to do, but I have my pension so I can look around. I promise you, Bella, I will never leave you again. Not for at least fifty years or more.” Isabella smiled. “Sounds good to me, but only fifty years? Well, just be here for the rest of my life, and I’ll be very happy.”

He pressed his lips to hers to seal the promise, and then set her down. She moved to prepare the babies food. “I want to tell you about my life,” he told her, taking a seat at the table near his children. She set the babies dishes down and took a seat. He knew she was waiting and listening even as she began feeding the babies. “My dad died when I was five. I really don’t remember him, but my mom raised me and I was a hellion. At one point, she was thinking of moving back to the reservation just to keep me away from the other boys. I was defiant and talked back to her often. When I think back on it, I am ashamed of the way I treated her but she loves me, and I make sure she knows I love her every time I talk with her. “I ran with five other boys, Lucas Taggart, Cooper Lang, Lincoln Cole, Storm Bateman, and Dakota Walker. We were inseparable and we’re still close as adults, although I don’t see them as much as I’d like to. We were always in trouble and it wasn’t long before the town labeled us the bad boys of Dry River. It’s a small town, as you know, but I love it here. It’s quiet and everyone knows everyone but it’s a great place to live, and for kids to grow up in.” Mont took a deep breath and smiled at his beautiful children. “I was arrested when I was fifteen for breaking and entering. They threatened me with jail time, and it scared the shit out of me. They gave me probation instead, which instead of teaching me a lesson about avoiding crime, instead led me to think I could pretty much do what I wanted and only get a slap on the wrist. My friends didn’t get off as easy. Coop was

arrested for vandalism, Linc for theft, Storm and Dakota for breaking and entering. Then one night, Lucas was trying to steal a car, which turned out to belong to a cop.” Isabella snorted and laughed. “Uh oh.” Mont laughed too because it was quite ironic. “Well, Bill caught him in the act and told him if he did better in school, he wouldn’t press charges. Lucas wasn’t happy about it, but he agreed to it and once he started doing better, we all did. Bill saved all of us, and now he’s married to Lucas’s mom. We all came from broken homes and thought no one cared about us, so we became family to each other. Coop’s mom used to belittle him all the time. She constantly called him stupid.” Mont paused, frowning as he remembered his friend’s pain at the words. “The man is far from stupid. His father told her to leave and never come back, and so she did. To this day, Coop has no idea where she is, nor do I think he wants to know. Linc’s dad raised him alone, and thought the sun rose and set on him, but Linc didn’t see it until he was in his twenties. Storm and I met on the reservation when we were seven. We raised hell together there too. His mother moved here after my mom did, since our mothers are friends. Dakota’s brother, Nathan, raised him when their parents died in a plane crash. Nathan is the Sheriff of Dry River, and Lucas’s dad took off before he was even born.” He grinned thinking of his friends—his brothers. “Also, no one but my mom ever calls me Montgomery. I go by Mont,” he told her, watching her wipe their babies’

messy faces and hands. “So knowing all this, do you still want to marry me?” Isabella stopped what she was doing, came out of her seat, and moved to his side. “Of course I do and I happen to like Montgomery, so that’s what I’m calling you.” At his groan, she laughed. “I love you so much, Montgomery Bradford.” Mont pulled her into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. When she sighed against his lips, he deepened the kiss. “I love you, Isabella Lofton, soon to be Bradford. I’d like to ask your parents for permission to marry you.” Isabella smiled at him. “I’m marrying you no matter what, but they’d think very highly of you if you did.” “Can we go see them?” “Just let me finish feeding our babies and I’ll arrange for Daddy to send the jet for us.” Mont happily watched her feed their children. He was in awe of the little ones. They’d grin up at their mama and his heart would hit his stomach. He wanted them to smile at him like that. He quickly blinked back tears and lifted his eyes to discover Isabella smiling at him. “They’re so beautiful,” he whispered. Isabella laughed. “Tell me that again when you’re changing a dirty diaper.” Mont chuckled. “I can’t wait.”

Chapter Ten

Three hours later, Isabella and her happy family drove to the governor’s mansion from the airport. The big iron gates swung open and the car stopped in front of the steps. The front door opened and Maria Lofton stepped outside, smiling at them. She walked down the steps toward them and grinned at Montgomery. Maria took Colt from Isabella’s arms and motioned them to follow as she led the way up the steps. Isabella and Montgomery, carrying Randi, followed her into the mansion. They followed Maria into the living room. Isabella took a seat on the sofa and patted the spot next to her for Montgomery and he sat down beside her. “Where’s daddy?” she asked her mother, who was cuddling her grandson. “He’s on the phone, but he’ll be here in a few minutes,” Maria answered then shifted her gaze to Montgomery. “You’re the father, aren’t you?” Montgomery nodded. “Yes, ma’am, I am.” “Please call me Maria,” she said with a friendly smile. “Yes, ma’am…uh…Maria.”

Isabella leaned close to him, tickling her daughter’s belly. “Relax, don’t be so nervous. After what you’ve been through, this should be easy,” she whispered to him and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Montgomery grinned at her, and then handed Randi to her, and stood when Barton Lofton strode into the room. He came to a halt when he saw Isabella and Montgomery. He slowly walked toward Montgomery stopping in front of him. He stared him in the eye. “You’re the father,” Barton stated without hesitation. “Yes sir, I am,” Montgomery replied with pride. “Daddy, we’d like to talk with you and mom. This is Montgomery Bradford,” Isabella interjected drawing her father’s attention. “Could you please sit down, Daddy?” Barton stared at his daughter, glanced at Montgomery again, and then took a seat in a wingback chair. Isabella nodded to Montgomery. “Go ahead, hon.” She knew he was nervous when she heard Montgomery clear his throat. “Mister Lofton, sir, I’d like to ask your permission to marry your daughter.” “You want to marry my daughter when you haven’t been around for almost a year?” Her father’s voice carried an underlying anger as he sat forward in his chair. “Yes sir, there are…were extenuating circumstances as to why I wasn’t with Bella—”

“They’d better be damn good extenuating circumstances, son,” Barton growled. “Daddy—” “Isabella, let the man speak for himself,” her father scolded, his tone making Randi fuss so Isabella cooed at her. “Mr. and Mrs. Lofton, I love Isabella—” Montgomery began. “If you love her, then where the hell have you been?” “Sir, as you said, let me speak for myself…please.” Isabella dipped her head so her parents wouldn’t see her grin. She reached out, taking Montgomery’s hand in hers, and gave it a squeeze. He squeezed back. “All right, go on,” Barton said leaning back in his chair. “I was in a coma for eight months after taking a bullet meant for you, sir,” Montgomery told her father. Barton came to his feet, his eyes wide. “I knew you looked familiar. You were at the cabin and jumped in front of me when Barkley tried to shoot me.” Montgomery gave a single nod. “Yes, sir.” Isabella







Montgomery, hand her Colton before turning to him and hugging him. Montgomery wrapped his arms around her. “You’re Colt,” she heard her mother say against his shoulder. Montgomery grinned down at her mother. “Yes, ma’am.” “I thought you introduced him as Montgomery, Isabella?” Her father was clearly confused.

“Daddy, Montgomery was working undercover as Colt Raines. His job was to get close to Barkley, and he kept me safe. He and agent Micah Turner were both undercover for the FBI.” “But why didn’t you tell us he was in a coma?” “She thought he was dead, Barton,” Maria told her husband. “Everyone believed he was going to die so Micah and Montgomery’s mother made the decision not to tell me of his condition. I don’t agree with what they did but it’s over now, and Montgomery is in perfect health,” Isabella said, smiling up at the man she loved. “I want to marry Isabella and be a father to our babies. I’d like your permission, sir.” Barton walked toward Montgomery, and stuck his hand out. “Of course, son, I’d be more than happy to have you marry our daughter. Now I understand why she was so upset when she first came home after Barkley had taken her. She thought you were dead, and then to find out she was pregnant…” He glanced at Isabella, and she saw a tear shimmer in her father’s eye. “I would change it all if I could,” Montgomery said looking down at her. Isabella stood, handing him one of the babies and hugged him. “We’re going to be fine.” She gazed up at him. “I love you,” she whispered to him. He kissed the top of her head.

“I can promise you one thing, Governor, she’ll never be hurt by me again,” Montgomery told him. “That’s good enough for us, Montgomery,” Barton said, squeezing his future son-in-law’s shoulder. “I go by Mont, although your daughter seems to have a mind of her own and insists on calling me by my full name,” Montgomery explained, and shrugged when she laughed. “I think I like Montgomery too,” Maria told him then laughed when he groaned. They stayed for dinner, spent the night, and then headed back to the home they were going to share as a family. Once they settled the babies, she and Montgomery relaxed in the living room. “Do you mind if I invite my friends over? I haven’t seen them in over a year and I’d love for you to meet them.” Isabella smiled. “Of course, I’d love to meet them.” Fifteen minutes later, Montgomery entered the living room and smiled at her. “They’ll all be here tomorrow around one. I can’t wait for you to meet them.” “I can’t wait either. Are any of them married?” “Lucas is the only one right now. Storm has a little girl though. His wife ran off with another man right after their daughter was born. And it’s just luck that Dakota is here right now. He lives in Colorado. He’s a big time lawyer.” Isabella smiled and hugged him. “I’ll make lunch for everyone.” “You don’t need to do that…”

“I know but I want to. So, they’ll all be here?” “Yes, all six together, just like old times,” Montgomery said with a big grin. “It will get rowdy, I’m sure.” Isabella didn’t care. As long as he was happy having his friends come by to see him, she was happy too. **** Lunch with his friends was more than rowdy. Teasing and ribbing went on the entire time. Dakota’s brother, Nathan and his wife, Shelly came too. Mont had a feeling Isabella would make instant friends with her and with Lucas’s wife, Emily, who was now very pregnant. “When are you due, Emily?” Isabella asked her with an excited smile. “Anytime now,” Emily smiled running her hand over her huge belly. “This is our second one. Logan isn’t feeling well so we left him with Lucas’s mom. He’ll be a year old in July.” “I’m sorry he’s not feeling well, but I’m happy for you being pregnant again. It’s great.” Isabella smiled at Emily. “The hell it is. I’m on pins and needles twenty-four seven,” Lucas grumbled. Montgomery laughed. “Big tough Lucas Taggart scared.” Lucas’s middle finger shot up, making everyone laugh. Emily stood and waddled toward him. She wrapped her arms around his waist. “I still think you’re big and tough.”

“Well, you definitely know I’m big, darlin’.” Lucas laughed when Emily blushed and the other men groaned. He raised his eyebrows. “What? Jealous guys?” “I should arrest you for lying,” Nathan told him with a wink. Mont laughed along with everyone else. His eyes met Isabella’s across the room and it felt like his heart stopped beating. God, he loved her so much. She was the best thing ever to happen to him. She gave him a big smile. “How did you and Lucas meet, Emily?” Isabella asked, and then glanced around the room when everyone laughed. “What’d I say?” Emily chuckled. “Lucas and I knew each other when we were children but hadn’t seen each other in years. When I needed protection from my ex-husband, I asked Lucas to marry me.” “You asked him to marry you?” Isabella asked in surprise. Emily shrugged. “I had to. My ex was getting out of prison and he swore he’d never let me go. I was scared to death he’d come after me, which he did. Adam Walters was not a nice man.” She physically shivered as if something from another world reached out and touched her. Lucas put his arm around her and pulled her close. “He’s gone now,” Lucas whispered against her forehead before pressing his lips there. “Did he go back to prison?” Isabella asked with a curious voice. “No,” Emily said, glancing to the floor. “I killed him.”

Isabella gasped. “You did?” “I had to. He was determined to get to me. He’d already shot one of Nathan’s deputies, killed a woman, and he’d sworn he’d kill Lucas too. When Adam made his way into the house, I shot him—twice.” Emily raised her chin in defiance glancing around the room as if waiting for someone to say she’d been wrong. The room was quiet as everyone stared at Isabella waiting for her reaction. She didn’t disappoint. She nodded her head. “Good for you, sweetie.” It was as if the entire room released a unified sigh of relief. Emily and Lucas grinned, and then Mont cleared his throat. “Thing is though, she tossed Lucas out after that. Telling him she didn’t need him since she’d protected herself,” Mont interjected, giving Emily a mock glare. Lucas shook his head. “Very true, the woman was downright mean.” Mont laughed and glanced toward Isabella who was frowning and figured he’d better explain. “Emily heard Lucas talking in the barn with the foreman of Whispering Pines, Emily and Lucas’s ranch, and she misunderstood the conversation and told him she wanted him to leave.” Mont glanced at Emily, who was looking everywhere but at him. “When she was told what the conversation she’d overheard was really about, she called all of us looking for him. He was staying with me in Cheyenne at the time so when she called me, I didn’t tell her that. I was angry with her for hurting him but once she explained what

happened, I told Lucas she wanted him to pick his horse up, which didn’t make him all too happy. Lucas drove there to get his horse and Emily told him what had happened, and well, as you can see, they’re happy to be together.” “I’m so glad you worked it out,” Isabella told Emily and Lucas. Emily narrowed her eyes at Mont. “Mont was not very nice to me.” Mont grinned at her. “Hey, I was angry with you. In case you haven’t noticed, all of us are closer than most brothers are. Yes, we fight and get angry, but we love each other and we’ve got each other’s backs.” “Aww man, don’t make us sound like pussies,” Dakota spoke up suddenly. “I realized just how short life can be, Dakota and I’m not ashamed to admit that I love you guys. I can’t imagine not having you all in my life,” Mont said with a sincerity that made his throat clutch. No one spoke for a few minutes, and then Cooper spoke up. “If it had been up to me, Lucas wouldn’t have married Emily. I tried to talk him out of it.” “Yes, I heard all about it, Cooper Lang,” Emily scolded him, making them all laugh. Isabella stood and every man who was sitting stood with her, making her smile. “Excuse me, I need to check the babies,” she told them, heading for the door.

“Could I come with you, Isabella?” Emily asked. “Of course, you’re welcome to come too, Shelly.” Mont watched as his future wife led the women out of the room, their discussion having already turned to babies. “She’s really beautiful, Mont, and you seem really happy,” Lincoln said, smacking him on the back. “Thanks, I’m very happy. I never thought I’d fall in love and I sure as hell wasn’t looking for it but as soon as I looked at her, I knew.” He shook his head. “Of course, it was the wrong place and wrong time. I could have killed Barkley when he brought her back from the mansion.” “Look at it this way, if he hadn’t you wouldn’t be with her now, and have those babies,” Storm said, pointing out the obvious truth. “Speaking of babies, where’s Mandy?” “My mom has her for the weekend,” Storm told him. “I bet she’s getting big now.” Storm nodded. “She’s growing fast. I can’t believe she’s two already.” “Are you doing all right, Storm?” Lincoln asked with concern. “Yeah, thanks. It’s been almost two years. We’re both fine,” Storm said. “Glad to hear it.” Mont turned to look at Dakota. “What about you? Are you seeing anyone?” “Anyone I can, when I can.” Dakota laughed.

Mont chuckled and rolled his eyes before glancing at Lincoln. “You?” “No. I’m too damn busy with the ranch,” Lincoln told him. “You all need to get yourselves a wife,” Mont said. The men stared at him for a few seconds, and then burst out laughing. Mont quickly joined them. It was good to be home. **** Isabella changed the babies, handing them off to Emily and Shelly because they wanted to hold them. Shelly smiled, rocking the baby in her arms. “I don’t know how you did it, Isabella. I mean, raising one baby alone would be hard enough, but two?” she remarked with amazement filling her voice. “Well, I have to admit I had some help from my parents after they were first born. My mom came to stay with me for two weeks, but there were times I thought I was going to go insane. It didn’t last long because anytime I looked at them I fell in love a little more. They were a part of Montgomery and I held on to that with both hands.” Isabella wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes on a sigh. “I still can’t believe he’s alive. I missed him so much, and now he’s here.” Her words caught on a sob. Emily moved close and hugged her. “I’m so happy it worked out for you. I can’t imagine what you went through. I know how crazy I was when I made Lucas

leave, but to think he’s dead…” Emily shook her head. “I’m just glad Nathan’s a sheriff in a small town. Not much goes on around here, except with you and Lucas, Emily. I’m still afraid every time he goes out on a call no matter what it’s for,” Shelly told them. “Montgomery quit the FBI and I’m so glad. I’d go crazy with him going on assignments.” Isabella said, gently rubbing one of the twin’s soft fuzz-covered heads. “He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but I’m sure he’ll figure something out. In the meantime, we’re fine with our finances. I have a savings account, the book’s selling well, and he has his pension. I just can’t see him sitting on the couch all day,” she said with a shrug, and the other women nodded in agreement. After settling the babies in their cribs, the three of them returned downstairs to the men. The men stood when the women entered the room, and Isabella couldn’t help but think they may have been bad boys in their youth, but they’d grown up into good men. Montgomery came toward her with an expression of excitement, taking her hand and pulling her close. “Nathan’s offered me a job as a deputy. What do you think?” “If it’s what you want, I’m fine with it,” she said in response, knowing her voice wasn’t as supportive as it could be. Catching her tone, Montgomery frowned down at her. “I won’t do it if you’re uncomfortable with it.” Realizing he had need of her approval, she smiled. “I’m fine with it. I just want you to do what you want.”

“It is what I want, Bella,” Montgomery told her. “That’s good enough for me then.” A few hours later, everyone began leaving. When Storm hugged her, she squeezed back in a tight embrace. He seemed so lost to her. He needed a good woman in his life and as gorgeous as he was, she was sure there were plenty of women out there who’d want him. After she closed the door behind the last of them, she turned to Montgomery, hugging him. “Storm seems so sad,” she whispered against his chest. “I know, princess, but he’s much better than he was. He fell apart when Tracy left him but she wasn’t the woman for him. I believe that with all my heart, but he fell in love. They got married and seemed happy enough until she found out she was pregnant. She told Storm she never wanted to have children and that she hated living on the ranch. Tracy apparently had ideas of getting him to sell the ranch and move away from Dry River.” Montgomery squeezed her tight to him. “He’ll never leave here. It’s his home. His grandfather left him the ranch and he loves it. He sells the best Arabians in the states. Tracy knew all that when she married him.” “It just wasn’t meant to be,” she said, inhaling the scent of him, which had filled her dreams for so long. “I believe everything happens for a reason. Storm may not understand it now, but he will someday.” She leaned back and gazed up at the man who made her heart soar. “Just like as bad as it was when Barkley took me with him, it was because of him that I met you. I hated him for his murderous threats, and his hatred, but it was because he involved himself in my life that we fell in love.”

“That’s a hell of thing to say.” “No, it’s not. It’s true. Think about it, if I hadn’t gone with him when he came to the mansion, we never would have met.” “Oh, darlin’, I don’t believe that. We’re meant to be together, Bella, we would have met some way.” Isabella laughed. “You are Montgomery Bradford.”

one hardheaded


“You know it,” he whispered before pressing his lips to hers. “I need you so much, Bella.” “I need you too,” she whispered back gazing into his eyes —his blue eyes. She smiled up at him. “What are you smiling about?” “Your eyes are blue,” she said with a flirtatious tilt of her head. Montgomery grinned at her and chuckled. “Well, I am a little turned on right now.” He scooped her into his arms, and carried her upstairs to their bedroom. He laid her down on the bed and settled in beside her. His lips pressed to hers and she opened to him. Isabella slid her fingers into his thick dark hair, reveling in the feel, and pulled him closer. She felt his hands at the snap of her jeans and heard him open her zipper but when his hand snaked inside, and his fingers moved down between her wet folds, she moaned. “Mont, please…” Montgomery raised his head and stared down at her with wide eyes. “You just called me Mont.”

She blew out a laugh. “Oh, shut up and kiss me… Montgomery.” When he growled and buried his face in her neck, she wanted to purr. He pulled her shirt off over her head and unclasped her bra, freeing her breasts. Cupping the fullness of her breast in his hand, he rubbed his thumb over the nipple, making it peak. He moved his mouth to her neck and nipped her skin gently with his teeth making her clutch at him tighter. He slowly raised his head and gazed down at her with such desire in his eyes, she thought she’d die from it. “I dreamed of you while I was working hard to get my strength back. I’d go to sleep hard and wake up hard—so hard, I ached. There were times I took matters into my own hands thinking of you,” he whispered. “I’d cry out your name when I’d come, but it was never enough, I wanted you every day, every time, just like I want you now.” Isabella groaned. “Yes, please…I want you inside me now.” Smiling, she watched him climb off the bed and undress. His hard cock was straining against his boxer briefs, eager for her, so she scrambled to her knees, pulled the cloth away, and wrapped her fingers around him. When she kissed the head before sucking him into her mouth, a guttural sound tore from his throat. She peeked up at him and smiled. “Did you dream of this too? Of me taking you deep into my mouth and sucking on you?” Montgomery’s hands tangled in her hair.

“Yes,” he hissed as she licked his length. “Then let me make your dream come true,” she whispered before taking him deep in her mouth again. Her hand cupped his balls and kneaded them gently. His hips pumped and he groaned and clenched his jaw trying to stay in control. Suddenly, he grabbed her, lifting her and tossing her back onto the bed. Sliding his hands up her legs, Montgomery pulled her to the edge of the bed and just as he had done once before long ago, he sunk to his knees and buried his face between her legs. Isabella moaned as his tongue moved over her clitoris and when he rubbed his teeth against it, she fisted her hands in his hair, pulling him closer. She started panting as her orgasm took hold of her and the waves of pleasure began crashing over her. Just as she floated down, Montgomery pulled away from her and began pressing into her, inch by glorious inch, filling her and making her moan. She wrapped her legs around his waist while his hands grasped her hips and he pulled her tighter against him. Standing alongside the bed, he pounded into her harder and deeper. It wasn’t long before Isabella felt those wonderful feelings again and soon she was crying out as she came. Opening her eyes, she watched Montgomery. He was watching her, his jaw clenched, his chest heaving with the strain, but then his head tipped back and he groaned out her name as he came, and then he fell to the bed beside her. Both of them laid there trying to catch their breaths. “If I live to be a hundred, which is questionable at this rate, I’ll never get enough of you, princess.”

Isabella rolled toward him, laughing. “Same here.” Pressing a kiss to his damp chest, she gently raked her teeth across an erect nipple, enjoying the way he groaned. “I’m only hoping sex really is good for the body and we live to be a hundred because I want to do that over and over again until we’re too old to survive it.” She laughed when he groaned again. “We’ll just have to be careful not to break a hip,” Montgomery told her, chuckling against her hair. Isabella kissed his mouth. “I’m sure we’ll do what we can.” She sat up, pushing her damp hair back from her face. “I need to check our babies. It’s almost time for them to eat.” “I want to help. Go grab a shower and I’ll see if they’re awake yet.” Isabella nodded and headed for the shower before he changed his mind, although she had faith he could handle it or at least, he’d learn to.

Chapter Eleven

Mont walked quietly into the nursery and gazed down at his children. His heart ached at how much love he felt for these two tiny human beings. He softly rubbed his hand over Colt’s black hair and Randi’s red hair. Both had hair as soft as down. “I’m so sorry I missed your arrival. I wish I could have been here to welcome you into the world and been with your mama when she was carrying you. I’m sure she looked beautiful,” he whispered, his heart overwhelmed with love. “I was as big as a whale,” Isabella said in a quiet voice from the doorway. Mont turned to look at her and smiled. “I still wish I could have seen you.” “You’ll see me explode into whale mode the next time.” Isabella held out her arms as if to demonstrate her size, puffing out her cheeks. He walked toward her and reached out, capturing a few strands of her hair between his fingers. Gazing into her eyes, he only regretted the time lost.

“You are the best thing in my life, Bella…you, and our babies. I love all three of you so very much. No one could have told me it was possible to love this much.” He watched her blink back tears, and cupped her cheek in his hand. “I never want to bring tears to those beautiful eyes ever again.” “These are happy tears,” Isabella told him, gazing up at him. He read only love there. “Did you cry a lot over me when you thought I was dead?” “I did. At first, it was so hard accepting you were gone. My parents were so worried about me, and then I found out I was pregnant. It helped me so much just knowing I had a part of you with me.” She laughed. “Imagine how I felt when I found out I was carrying twins.” He shook his head wishing he’d been here for her. “It had to be hard on you though.” Isabella stepped into his embrace wrapping her arms around his waist. “I was fine. I couldn’t wait to have them, and they’ve been little angels ever since, although Colt does tend to get cranky more often than Randi does. Typical male, I suppose, he wants all the attention.” Mont grinned at her. “Like father, like son…I want all the attention from you too.” He kissed her quickly. “I think we need to make wedding plans and the sooner the better.” Isabella nodded. “I agree. It doesn’t have to be a huge wedding. I just want to marry you and live my life with you.” “Sounds good to me, darlin’,” he said, kissing her, only to have the babies interrupt, demanding attention too.

Mont picked up their daughter while Isabella picked up their son. She quickly changed him and handed him to Mont so she could take Randi, when he shook his head. “No, I want to learn how to change them.” Isabella laughed resting Colt on her hip. “Okay, if you’re sure?” Mont nodded, and so she stepped back a step, directing him to lay their daughter on the changing table. Once he’d done so, she instructed him on what to do. “Good Lord! How can one little girl make such a mess?” Mont exclaimed, gagging and trying not to let Isabella see him doing so. He seriously thought he was going to throw up. Isabella burst out laughing. “Sorry, you need to learn anyway. Come on, Daddy, change the diaper.” Mont grumbled the entire time. After he put a fresh diaper on his daughter, he put clean pajamas on her, and picked her up, cradling her. “Maybe a clothespin over my nose would help next time.” “You’d still see it,” Isabella reminded him, even as she tried not to laugh. He groaned. “I’ll get used to it…I hope,” he muttered. Later as evening descended with the sun beginning to set outside, they sat together in the living room. Mont watched television while Isabella skimmed through a magazine looking for a dress for the wedding. Every time she’d find a dress she liked, she’d show him, but Mont would simply shrug. He didn’t care what she wore as long as she married him. Finally, she tossed the magazine down and glared at him. He raised an

eyebrow at her, wondering what he’d said, or not said, to upset her. “What?” “Don’t you even care what my dress looks like?” “No, princess, I don’t. I know you’ll look beautiful no matter which one you choose, and all I care about is seeing you out of it.” He grinned and winked at her when she blushed. Isabella beamed at him then flinched, her arms covering her head when the front window shattered. “What…?” Mont jumped up and ran toward her. “Get down,” he told her as he pushed her behind a chair. “Is someone shooting at us?” “It sure as hell sounds like it,” Mont grumbled as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Nathan. His old friend answered on the first ring. “Nathan, someone just shot the front window out of the house. I’m going to go out and look around,” he said into the phone, and then listened. “Okay, I’ll see you in a little while.” Mont hung up and glanced at Isabella. She was staring at him with tears glistening in her frightened eyes. “Please don’t go out there,” she whispered, her voice shaking. Mont blew out a breath. “I need to find out what’s going on. It could be accidental, a hunter, or someone just shooting their gun.”

“I have ten acres here, Montgomery. How could it be an accident?” Shit! She was too smart for her own good and although he wasn’t going to tell her that, he wasn’t going to mention it wasn’t hunting season right now either. “I won’t go far. I’ll go out the back door and look around.” “No! I lost you once and I’m not going to do it again,” Isabella begged him. Mont pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. “All right, princess. I’ll wait for Nathan. He’ll come in silent so I need to watch for him.” Isabella trembled against him. “Who could it be?” “Like I said, it could just be an accidental shooting. Out here in the country, stuff like this happens.” He knew by her expression she didn’t believe him. He shrugged and held her tighter. When another shot whipped past them, it confirmed their worst fears, it was no accidental shooting. Isabella screamed. “I need to get to my babies,” she exclaimed and started to stand. Mont pulled her back down. “I have to get up there, Montgomery.” “Crawl on your stomach until you get to the stairs, and then run up there. Stay upstairs. Do not come back down here until I tell you to. Understand? I’m going to be right behind you. I need my weapon.” Isabella nodded and he watched her crawl as fast as she could across the floor to the steps. When she reached them, she scrambled up the stairs. Mont was right behind. While she

headed for the babies’ room, he hurried to their bedroom and retrieved the strong box from the top shelf in the closet. He removed his Glock 23 .40 caliber and checked the load. He started to close the box when he saw the other gun, a Smith and Wesson M&P9. He took it out and quickly moved down the hall to the nursery. He glanced around, but didn’t see her. “Isabella?” “I’m in here.” He heard her voice coming from the direction of the closet. He opened the door and squatted down in front of her since she was sitting on the floor with the babies cradled in her lap. “Stay in here with the door closed and take this,” he said holding out the gun for her to take, but she shook her head. “Yes, Bella, please…take it. It has a full clip with seventeen rounds. I’m hoping as much as you that you won’t have to use any of them, but I want you to protect yourself and our babies, if you have to.” He leaned down and kissed her, and then each of his children. “Don’t open this door for anyone, and don’t call out until you hear me. Do you understand?” “Yes.” Isabella nodded but grabbed his arm when he started to get up. “Please come back to me, Montgomery. Please.” He cupped her face in his hand. “I will, princess. I promise.” Mont slowly stood, closing the door while saying a prayer that his most precious things in life would stay safe. He hurried from the room and crept down the stairs with his weapon in front of him. The last rays of the day’s sun peeked through the windows on each side of the fireplace. Mont hated

to see the sun go down because too many things could happen in the dark. He wanted to be able to see who or what he was fighting. He suspected the son of a bitch would make a move soon enough. He swiftly turned toward the kitchen when he heard the door open slowly, his weapon raised and ready. He sighed with relief when he heard Nathan whispering his name. “I’m in the living room, Nathan,” Mont told him in a hushed voice. Nathan cautiously entered the living room. “Any more shots?” “Yeah, one more after I called you. It must be Stewart Rodgers. I can’t think of anyone else it could be. I just don’t understand why he’d risk getting caught to come after me.” “Did you have any problems with him when you were undercover?” “Other than him not liking me for some reason, no,” Mont said shaking his head. “You don’t know why he didn’t like you? He never said?” “I only met him once and never saw him after that. He rubbed me the wrong way though,” he told Nathan. “Maybe you rubbed him the wrong way too,” Nathan whispered. Mont nodded. “Could be, I don’t know.” “You can’t think of anyone—” Another bullet ripped through the front window making them both drop to the floor. “Well, the stupid son of a bitch hasn’t moved,” Mont muttered, getting really pissed off now. “How did you get

around the back?” “I parked on the road down from here and ran over. I didn’t want to drive the car up to the house, and be a moving target,” Nathan said. “Here, take this.” Nathan handed him a walkie-talkie. “Smart move. I think we should get outside and go in opposite directions. Maybe we can come up on him from behind. If he thinks he has us pinned down in here, we can get the drop on him.” They started toward the door. Bullets ripped through the window again, slamming into the interior walls and furniture. Both men hit the floor, covering their heads with their hands as bullets flew over them. “Damn, we need to stop this son of a bitch. We need to get out there and get him,” Mont called out to Nathan. “Give him a minute to run out of ammo, and we’ll head out the back when he reloads,” Nathan called back, keeping his voice low enough not to be heard outside. “We can use the trees on each side of the house for cover.” Nathan nodded his agreement. Suddenly, it was silent. “Let’s go,” Mont said, and they ran toward the door. “Where’s Isabella?” Nathan asked as they reached the back door. “Upstairs, she’s got the babies, and they’re in a closet. I gave her a weapon. She knows not to call out unless I call for her.”

Mont slowly opened the back door, and he stepped onto the back porch with Nathan right behind him. Just as they were about to move down the steps, they heard another shot hit the interior wall of the living room. Mont grunted. “Well, he still hasn’t moved. We just need to find out where he’s dug in. Let’s go.” Mont ran across the yard, using the trees as cover while Nathan took off in the opposite direction. Mont ran through the barn and out its back door. He was thinking the shooter must be across the road using a high-powered rifle. Of course, a rifle like that could shoot from a mile away, but he hoped the shooter was closer. With the sun sinking fast behind the Big Horn mountains, it would be dark soon and if the shooter was closer, they could possibly find him before the sun set completely. The walkie-talkie in his pocket squawked and Nathan’s voice came over it. “I just saw the sun glint off something across the road— could be our shooter.” “Copy. How far do you figure?” “Not quite a half a mile. He’s close. Hold on…” Nathan’s voice disappeared but then he was back again. “I just saw it again. I think he’s up on the old water tower across the road.” Mont squinted in the direction of the tower across the road, and there it was, the waning sun reflected off something there. “I see it.” “All right, let’s move in. Slowly Mont. Don’t go in there guns blazing.” “Yes, sir,” Mont said with sarcasm coating his words.

“Smart ass. Just remember that when I’m your boss.” Mont smiled. He heard the smile in Nathan’s voice too. Moving along the trees, he crossed the road down from the driveway to the house. Once he was across the road, he called Nathan to tell him he was on the other side. Nathan called back and told him the same. Mont squatted down and looked up toward the water tower. Sure enough, a man was up there, lying on his stomach with a rifle pointed at the house. “How do you want to do this, Nathan?” “I’m going to get in closer and try to talk him down,” Nathan told him. “Keep your gun on him in case he keeps shooting but don’t kill him if you don’t have to.” “Right,” Mont said. “I’m not talking out my ass here, Mont. Do not kill the man if you don’t have to.” “Yes, sir,” Mont grumbled. Nathan’s chuckle came over the walkie-talkie. “I can see what type of deputy you’re going to be—trouble with a capital T.” “Trouble’s my middle name,” Mont said into the walkietalkie. “Good. I need some tough men on my side. But, as I said, I want him alive if at all possible.” Mont knew Nathan was right. Dead men don’t answer questions very well. He crouched down and watched Nathan come out from among the trees. He could see Nathan shouting, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. The man on the

water tower shouted back. Nathan held his gun up in front of him, aiming up at the man but the man didn’t stand or move. Pushing slowly to his feet, Mont aimed his weapon at the man. Suddenly, the man swung the rifle in Nathan’s direction and shot. “Son of a bitch,” Mont swore with anger when he saw Nathan fall. He took his aim and fired his weapon. The man dropped the rifle, crying out when the bullet hit him in the shoulder. Mont ran through the tall grass to Nathan’s side. **** Isabella flinched every time she heard gunfire. She knew Montgomery was out there and she was terrified he was going to die. The thought of losing him again was incomprehensible. She rocked the babies and hummed to them. It amazed her they were so quiet. Randi gazed up at her with blue eyes so very much like her own. Colt had his daddy’s eyes, and she often wondered if they’d change colors too when he got older. Thinking about her babies distracted her enough that it took a moment to realize she no longer heard gunshots. She strained to hear, but there was nothing but silence. What was going on? Where were Montgomery and Nathan? Was the shooter still out there? With her heart pounding in her chest, her fear amplified with the unknown, she scooched back further into the closet and prayed for both their safe returns. Colt started fussing and she tried to calm him, but he began to cry. Isabella reached for a blanket, spread it on the floor, and laid Randi down as she tried to calm Colt. She knew the best

thing to do was feed him. After laying him down on the blanket, she unbuttoned her blouse, and opening her bra, she picked him up. He calmed as soon as he had her breast. She didn’t feed him too long, but traded him off for Randi to keep them both content until this horror was over. The continuing silence was unsettling. Her children slept on the floor as she watched over them. She waited but still didn’t hear anything, and she wasn’t leaving the closet until Montgomery came after her. She listened, suddenly hearing a siren in the distance. She prayed it was coming for the shooter and not Montgomery or Nathan. It wasn’t long after that she heard footsteps outside the door. She held her breath and prayed. “Isabella?” With a cry, she opened the door and threw herself into Montgomery’s arms. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she held on to him, not wanting to let go. He carried her to the bed and sat down with her on his lap. She ran her hands over his face, and then over his shoulders, arms and chest, silently taking inventory. “You’re all right.” It was her hope, not an inquiry. “Yes,” Montgomery whispered against her mouth before kissing her. “Are you and the babies okay?” “Yes, we’re fine. We didn’t leave the closet. Lord, how it felt like hours.” She pressed her lips to his. “I heard a siren. Who?” “I shot the man who was shooting at us. He was up on the water tower and shot Nathan—”

“Oh no! Nathan, shot. The man didn’t… Is Nathan all right?” Her thoughts went to Shelly. “Yes, he’s fine. Thank God, he had his vest on,” Montgomery told her. “Oh, I’m so glad. I’d hate for something to happen to him. It would kill Shelly,” she said, hugging him to her tighter. “Oh, Montgomery, I was so afraid. I don’t know what I would have done if something happened to you. All I could think about was how I couldn’t bear to go through it again.” “I’m fine, princess, and I’m not going anywhere.” She felt him kiss her forehead and smiled. “Who was he?” Her curiosity finally got the better of her. “Stewart Rodgers. He was one of Barkley’s men. I met him the day I thought I was going to the cabin for your dad. Seems Rodgers blames me for all of it falling apart. I don’t get it. He stole from Barkley and ran off for over a year, but he blamed me. He swore at me the entire time they loaded him into the ambulance. He also said he came back with the intention of getting back in with Barkley, and starting up a new group. The idiot doesn’t even realize Barkley would have killed him for double crossing him, if he were still alive to do it.” “How did he know where to find you?” “Somehow one of his friends had an inside track to what went down at the cabin. Although he obviously didn’t know Barkley was dead, he did know I was in the hospital and it was touch and go,” Montgomery explained with a shrug of his shoulders followed by a squeezing hug. “Rodgers said he kept waiting to hear about me dying and when he didn’t, he

checked into it and found out I survived. He also managed to get my real name. I’m sure the FBI isn’t too happy about information leaking out on their undercover agents, and someone, probably at the hospital, will take the fall for that. Anyway, he hunted me down, all the while hoping to impress Barkley.” Isabella hugged him. “Is it over now?” “Yes, princess, it’s finally over.” **** “So where can we get married? I’d like to get married in a church.” Isabella asked him a few days later as she sat on his lap. “I know just the place. There’s a small church here in town. It’ll be perfect, I promise,” Montgomery told her kissing her. “I’m going to ask Patsy to be my maid of honor. I’ll need to call her. I haven’t even told her about you being alive. I just haven’t been able to find the time and she’s been so busy with school and work.” Isabella kissed him again, climbed from his lap, and walked upstairs to get their babies. When Montgomery followed her, and pushed her aside to pick up his children, she smiled at him. He really was her hero. “Go call Patsy, and I’ll feed the little angels. I’d like to meet this pixie woman who had Micah swearing up a blue streak.”

Isabella laughed as she left him to their children. He had no idea what he was getting into meeting her best friend. She grabbed her cell phone and pulled up Patsy’s number before calling her from the landline in the kitchen. “Hi Pats,” Isabella said when Patsy answered. “Bella, hey girl. Wow, I’ve wanted to call you, but I’ve been so busy. School and everything just slammed me this week, and I haven’t had a chance.” “I should have called you, Pats. So much has happened, you’re just not going to believe it,” Isabella said trying to keep her voice sounding calm. “What is it I won’t believe Bella? So much has gone on in a week, huh?” Patsy laughed. “He’s alive,” Isabella whispered. “Who’s alive?” “Mont—Colt.” Patsy gasped, and then there was silence for what felt like forever but was only seconds. “What? How?” “He was in a coma for eight months from a bullet wound to the back of his head, which he got while trying to protect my dad. Then when he woke up, it took him two months to get himself in shape enough to come to me, but his real name is Montgomery Bradford not Colt Raines, and Patsy, we’re getting married. I want you to be my maid of honor,” Isabella rattled off her news in rapid fire, not giving her friend a moment to comprehend what she was saying. “Pats?”

“Yeah, yeah, give me a minute. I’m a little in shock here. Oh, Bella, if you’re happy, I’m happy. Hell, I’m so very happy for you.” Isabella could hear the tears in her friend’s voice, and then the other shoe dropped. “But, Bella, he’s a criminal.” Isabella chuckled, enjoying the truth. “He wasn’t a criminal. He was an FBI agent. He was working undercover all along.” Patsy squealed in her ear. “Oh my God! How wonderful for you. I can’t wait to meet him. Of course, I’ll be your maid of honor. When’s the wedding?” “It’s going to be a small affair so it should only take me a couple of months to throw it together.” “Bella, I can’t tell you how happy I am for you. Let me know what you need help with and I’m on it, although I’m sure Maria will be going a hundred miles an hour getting this wedding ready for you. Are you having it at the mansion?” “No. We’re going to be married right here in a small church. All of Montgomery’s friends are here,” Isabella explained, and then thought about all those good-looking men. “Wait until you meet them. Five totally gorgeous men and only one is married.” Patsy groaned. “Oh come on, Bella…please don’t try to fix me up with any of them.” “See them first before you say nay,” Isabella told her with a chuckle. “Is—is that agent, you know the one, is he going to be there?”

Isabella was happy Patsy couldn’t see her smile. “Agent Turner is going to be the best man.” “I see…” Patsy cleared her throat. “Well, I suppose I can put up with him for one day.” “Come on, Patsy…you have to admit Micah is very goodlooking.” “I don’t have to admit any such thing,” Patsy said with a snort. “You’re so funny, Patsy. You forget I know you all too well,” Isabella teased her, smiling at her friend’s denial of the attraction between her and Micah. “I have to run. We’ve had a lot going on here today. One of Barkley’s men showed and shot up the house…” At her words, Patsy tried to interrupt her, but Isabella just kept going. “It’s a long story, but I need to go. I promise I’ll tell you all about it soon. I love you.” Isabella hung up the phone and chuckled at the thought of how she left her best friend, gasping for air trying to get in a question. She half expected her phone to ring any second. When it didn’t she figured she was safe and started down the hall. When she reached the opening to the living room, she was surprised to see Montgomery sitting on the sofa holding their children. He was talking to them softly. Isabella could see them smiling, and their little hands moving in excitement as they gazed up at him while he spoke. She took a seat beside him and leaned against his shoulder. “They’re fascinated by your voice. They’ve only really heard mine until recently.”

Montgomery smiled and keeping his voice low and gentle. He directed his words at his children. “They look at me and I can’t breathe, princess. They’re just so beautiful and to think I almost missed out on this.” Turning his gaze toward her, he frowned. “I didn’t remember anything at first, Bella. I remembered Micah, being an agent, and even my friends here in Dry River, but nothing else.” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t even remember how I got shot. The worst thing was…” His words caught and he swallowed. “I didn’t remember you.” Isabella placed her palm against his whiskered cheek. “It’s all right, Montgomery. You were shot in the head and lucky to be alive.” She kissed his cheek. “You remember me now and that’s all that matters. You have a beautiful son and daughter. They’ll love you as much as I do. You’re their daddy, it says so right on the birth certificate, which I’m going to have to find out if I can change since it says Colt Raines instead of your real name. You only missed the first two months of their lives, which I doubt they even remember. You’ll have plenty of time to make up for it, and watch them grow up.” “I remember when Micah and I were talking. The memory of you just popped out of nowhere. We were talking about my getting stronger and I told him I wanted to do it before I saw you. I remembered you…everything about you. When I found out Micah knew, and hadn’t told me, I was so angry, but eventually I realized he was right. It had to come to me on my own. It would have driven me crazy trying to remember you.” He kissed her forehead. “Now, I can’t imagine not remembering you.” She smiled up at him, and then kissed him. She ruffled the soft hair on her daughter’s head and pushed back the tightness

in her throat. “Patsy can’t wait to meet you. She’s so excited to be in the wedding. I’ll have to check with Mom and see if she wants to help me find a dress this weekend.” “I’ll babysit.” “I was thinking about something, Montgomery, what about your friends? Won’t they be upset you didn’t ask one of them to be your best man?” “No. For one thing, I could never choose between them, and they know that. They also know Micah and like him. They know he’s saved my ass several times in the field just as I’ve saved his. Don’t worry, princess, it’s all good.” “I’m glad then, because they’re a great bunch of guys, and I already love Emily and Shelly.” A sudden thought hit her, and she pulled away from him. “Oh my, I should call Shelly and see how Nathan is.” Montgomery smiled at her. She kissed her babies, and as she walked toward the hall, she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. The man she loved was completely engrossed in the two babies in his arms. As she headed to the kitchen to call Shelly, Isabella realized her world was perfect.

Chapter Twelve

Two months later, the night before the wedding, everyone was in the church waiting for rehearsal to begin when the church doors flew open and Micah strode in. Mont heard Patsy huff and he bit back a grin. “Micah, how good of you to join us. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to make it,” Mont said in greeting. “Sorry, flight was delayed,” Micah told him even as his eyes skimmed the room. When they landed on Patsy, he frowned but when he saw Isabella, he strolled toward her and pulled her into a tight embrace. “You’re as beautiful as ever, Isabella. It’s so good to see you again.” Isabella hugged him back and smiled up at him. “And you’re as gorgeous as ever, Micah.” “Hey, get your damn hands off my wife, Turner,” Mont growled, wondering when the two had become so friendly. “Montgomery Richard Bradford, have you forgotten you’re in a church?” his mother scolded him. He dipped his head in apology. “No ma’am. I’m sorry.” He turned back toward Micah. “Get your darn hands off my wife.”

Micah laughed. “First off, she isn’t your wife…yet and second, why would I want to do that, Bradford?” Mont scowled, saw the teasing grin on his friend’s mug, and laughed. “Okay, I’ll give you those.” Isabella stepped out of Micah’s embrace, and tilted her head in Patsy’s direction. “Micah, you remember my friend Patsy, don’t you?” Mont saw the muscle in Micah’s jaw working as he gave Patsy a terse nod. “Yes, I remember her.” Mont almost burst out laughing and when he glanced at Isabella, he saw she was holding back a grin as well. Just then, the reverend stepped forward, and cleared his throat. “Shall we get this party started?” Everyone was told their roles, what they needed to do, and when to walk down the aisle, and so forth. Barton escorted both his wife and Mont’s mother to their seats since there were no ushers, and then he returned to the back of the church to walk Isabella down the aisle. Mont stepped forward, taking her hand and leading her to the altar. She gazed up at him with tears in her eyes. “We’re only practicing, princess, what are you going to do tomorrow, when it’s real?” he asked her, grinning at her. “Probably cry like a baby,” Isabella told him with a coy smile. Mont lightly kissed her lips making the reverend reprimand him. “I haven’t said you can kiss your bride,

Montgomery. Quit jumping the gun.” “Yes sir. I got a little carried away.” After rehearsal, everyone gathered at a nearby restaurant for dinner. It just so happened that Micah and Patsy ended up sitting next to each other at the table. Mont noticed how uncomfortable they both were, and elbowed Isabella, nodding in their direction. Isabella chuckled softly and leaned close so as not to be overheard. “I think they’re attracted to each other, but don’t want to be and are in denial.” Mont laughed perhaps a bit too loud, and received a glare from both Micah and Patsy. He leaned close to Isabella’s ear. “I think you’re right, princess.” Suddenly Patsy stood and excused herself. Isabella raised her eyebrows at him, and then followed her friend. **** “Pats, are you all right?” Patsy flinched, stopping and turning to face her. “God, Bella. I didn’t know you were behind me.” She pushed open the door to the ladies’ room and Isabella followed her inside. “I’m sorry. I wanted to make sure you were okay.” “Why wouldn’t I be?” Patsy frowned at her. “I—I don’t know.” Isabella chewed her bottom lip, feeling nervous about this conversation.

“I had to use the restroom, Bella.” Patsy said with some annoyance. Isabella blew out a breath. “I thought you were upset because you were sitting next to Micah.” Patsy stared at her, and then burst out laughing. “Are you serious? Why would that upset me?” Isabella tilted her head at her friend, trying to read her. “There just seems to be a lot of tension between you two.” Patsy shrugged. “Probably because I don’t like him,” she said, raising her chin. Isabella snorted. “Really? Since when don’t you like a hot, good-looking man?” “Since said man is arrogant and full of himself.” Isabella decided it was best to drop the subject of Micah. She smiled at Patsy. “So what do you think of Montgomery?” Patsy smiled with genuine happiness. “I think he’s absolutely gorgeous and totally head over heels in love with you.” Suddenly, she leaned in close. “By the way, I thought his eyes were green, but earlier tonight when I saw him watching you, they looked blue.” When Isabella blushed and glanced away smiling, Patsy jumped on it, and grabbed her arm spinning her back to face her. “What? Come on, tell me.” “Well, his eyes tend to change colors. They change from green to dark green when he’s angry, and well, they change to blue when he’s…” She felt the heat rise in her cheeks.

“When he’s what?” Patsy asked with wide eyes. Isabella grinned and lowered her voice. “When he’s turned on.” Patsy burst out laughing. “That could be a blessing and a curse.” Together they laughed, finished up in the ladies’ room, and then headed back to the table. Isabella noticed Micah had moved to a seat beside Montgomery, and they were talking. She settled into an empty seat next to Patsy, glancing around the table taking in her newly expanded family. Montgomery’s mother, Lyla, was chatting with her parents. His mom was a wonderful woman who adored her son and after meeting her grandchildren, cried as she held them. She hugged Isabella and thanked her for bringing them into her life. Isabella already loved her and she was sure the feeling was mutual. She watched her parents and smiled as they talked with Lyla as if they were old friends. As her gaze swept the table, her eyes took in the easy-going demeanor of the man she loved. He was her life and she thanked God every day for bringing him back into her life. The many days after she thought he was dead, she hadn’t wanted to go on. Only after she found out she was pregnant had she felt deep in her heart that her child was God’s gift to her, so she’d never forget Montgomery. Of course, that gift turned out to be a double blessing, but then God gave her another gift of bringing him back to her. She was so happy with her life. Montgomery raised his head and looked at her. When he winked at her, she smiled and blushed. Life was never going to be boring with this man in her life. Suddenly, the door to the

restaurant opened and a boisterous group of six men and two women entered, heading straight toward their table. Isabella couldn’t be more pleased to have Montgomery’s friends show up to support him in his marriage. They would all attend the wedding tomorrow, but tonight it was a fun for all. Shelly and Emily sat across from Isabella. She noted how Storm sat close to Montgomery, but he was smiling and talking with everyone. Dakota, Cooper, and Lincoln vied for a seat by Patsy and the teasing had begun. Isabella glanced over at Montgomery, but all he did was grin. He was happy and that meant she was happy. They were all her family now too. **** Mont couldn’t keep his eyes off Isabella. She was glowing. This was the happiest he’d ever been. Knowing he was marrying the woman he loved, tomorrow, and having two beautiful babies with her was beyond anything he’d ever hoped would happen. He hoped for more children but if it didn’t happen, he was content with what he had. He smiled, watching her talking with Shelly and Emily. He had no doubt those three would hit it off from the start. He glanced and grinned. He saw Patsy laughing with Dakota, but he doubted anything would come from that since Dakota would probably never settle down with one woman. He loved them all too much, and it would take a very special one to bring him to his knees. Storm sat beside Mont talking with Micah, who seemed to have a problem keeping his eyes off

Patsy. Mont almost laughed when he heard Micah grumble when Patsy’s laughter drifted over to them. “Patsy seems to be getting along with Dakota well, don’t you think?” Mont remarked so Micah would hear him. He received a scowling glare in return for his comment. “What’s your point?” Micah asked. “No point, just an observation.” Mont smirked when Micah muttered under his breath. “She’s very pretty,” Storm interjected with innocence of what pot he was stirring. “That she is.” Mont agreed, meeting Micah’s glare. “She’s a damn…pixie,” Micah growled. Storm burst out laughing. “Haven’t you heard good things come in little packages?” Micah stood and snorted. “Not in this case. Either of you want another beer?” Mont laughed and waved him off. “No thanks. I need my wits about me. I don’t need to wake up with a headache on my wedding day.” Lucas pulled up a chair alongside him. “I never thought I’d hear you say something like that. You were so shocked when I got married.” “Yes, but all it takes is the right woman,” Mont said, and then glanced at Storm. “The right woman.” Storm scowled. “I sincerely hope you two have found yours, but I’m not looking again.”

“You can’t give up, Storm. The right one’s out there for you,” Lucas told him. Storm grunted. “Yeah, like I said, I’m not looking.” Mont shrugged and stood. “Well, I’m going to tell my soon to be wife goodnight since I’m staying at the damn hotel, and won’t see her again until I’ll see her at the church tomorrow.” He frowned. “This shit of not seeing the bride before the wedding is crazy.” Both Lucas and Storm pushed to their feet, and in turn, shook his hand. “We’ll see you there, Mont.” Mont thanked them for coming tonight, and walked around the table toward Isabella. Her eyes seemed to light up when she saw him coming for her. He leaned down, pressing his lips to hers. “I’ll see you at the altar, darlin’. You’d better show up because I can find you. I have connections,” he told her before kissing her again. Isabella laughed against his mouth, stroking his face with her soft hands. “I do too, Montgomery Bradford, so don’t think about skipping out on me now. I believe Micah would help me track you down.” He laughed and agreed. “Yeah, the others would be right there helping.” He gave her a quick kiss even though he wanted to pick her up and carry her away. “I’ll be there, princess. Don’t ever doubt it. Goodnight, my love.” Turning away, he headed out but couldn’t keep the smile off his face.


The day of the wedding, Patsy helped Isabella into her dress, a long white, figure-hugging gown. The sleeves were lace and ended just above her wrists. Above her breasts, the panel was lace and pearls. A small ring of white roses and baby’s breath sat atop her red hair, and red and white roses with matching ribbons made up her bouquet. “You look so beautiful,” Patsy said in a quiet voice with tears glittering in her eyes. “Don’t make me cry, Pats.” “I’m not trying to, but I’m so happy for you and Mont. He’s so hot and you’re so lucky.” “I love him so much, Patsy,” Isabella whispered, her heart pounding in her chest with excitement. Patsy hugged her. “I know. It was a miracle he came back to you.” Together they descended the stairs to wait for her father to arrive. He was escorting them to the church. When someone knocked on the door, Patsy opened it to Shelly’s sister, Kathy. She smiled and clapped her hands together.

“I’m so excited to be watching the babies for you, Isabella,” Kathy said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Kathy.” “I love kids. I want about ten of my own. I just need to talk Hank into it,” Kathy said with a big grin, and together the three women laughed. “I don’t know about ten, but I definitely want more with Montgomery,” Isabella said, thinking more about the fun of making all those babies, and then she gave a sudden groan. “Oh my God, no!” “What is it?” Patsy went into panic mode, moving to check Isabella’s dress. “I missed my period this month.” Patsy burst out laughing. “Really, Bella, you two seriously need to get on some sort of birth control.” Isabella swatted at her, and then put her fingers to her temples. “What were we thinking?” “Apparently you weren’t thinking at all,” Kathy said, laughing. Isabella groaned. “What if I’m pregnant again? What’s Montgomery going to think?” “Gee, Bella, it’s not like you’re trapping him into marriage.” Patsy teased. Isabella narrowed her eyes at her best friend. “You seriously need to shut up.”

Kathy and Patsy laughed, and finally she did too. Both women were right, she and Montgomery hadn’t been thinking, but she wasn’t tricking him into marriage. She sighed loudly. “I guess I’ll find out eventually.” “You’re a great mother, Bella, and no matter how many children you and Mont have, you’ll both love them. I think for every dog you adopt, you need a baby to go with it.” “Very funny, Patsy, I have six dogs now.” “Then you have a lot of catching up to do.” Patsy squealed when Isabella threw a dishtowel at her. Barton Lofton entered the front door, and stopped in his tracks. He stared at his daughter and walked forward until he was standing in front of her. He took her hands in his. “You look so beautiful, Isabella.” “Thank you, Daddy.” Isabella beamed up at him and felt tears sting the backs of her eyes when he quickly blinked his eyes to fight back his own. “You look so much like your mother did on our wedding day. She looked just as beautiful as you do,” Barton told her. “Daddy, I’m so happy to be marrying Montgomery. I can’t begin to tell you how happy it makes me to know I’ll be spending the rest of my life with him, and watching our children grow up here in this little town.” She hugged her father. “I want to be as happy as you and mom are.” Barton smiled at her. “You will be. We think the world of Mont already.” He chuckled. “How could I not? The man saved my life, and now he’s marrying my daughter. It was fate,

honey, and I can see how much he loves you when he looks at you.” Isabella blinked her tears away. “I can’t wait to see what the future brings.” “Lots of happiness, and hopefully more babies your mom and I can spoil.” Barton laughed. Isabella smiled with true joy, and gave him one more hug. “Let’s go. I’m so ready.” Barton put his arms out for Isabella and Patsy. The women looped their arms through his and after telling Kathy goodbye, they headed out on their trip to the church. **** Mont paced in the vestibule. Micah stood leaning against the wall with his arms folded, watching him. “Seriously, I didn’t think you’d be nervous.” Mont stopped and turned toward him. “I didn’t think I would be either. Damn. What if she doesn’t show up?” Micah laughed. “Of course she’ll show up. She just got you back after she thought you were dead. She’ll be here.” “I hope so,” Mont told him. “Mont, seriously, you need to stop worrying. Isabella loves you. She will be here.” Mont nodded glancing toward the door and hoping Micah was right. “Yes. She will,” he said with a nervous grin.

The reverend entered and smiled at them. “Your bride just arrived. Let’s get you married, son.” Mont laughed, and felt his heart skip a beat. “Yes, sir.” “Two bad boys down, four to go.” The Reverend laughed. “I’d say we weren’t bad boys, but everyone knows we were. I think two of them are a lost cause though, Reverend,” Mont said thinking of Dakota and Storm. “Nonsense. There is a soulmate out there for everyone. Just because Dakota’s a flirt doesn’t mean the right woman won’t catch him.” The reverend smiled, and then a frown furrowed his brow. “Storm is another matter.” Mont took a deep breath. “I agree.” Then he remembered who was waiting for him. “Let’s do this.” He and Micah followed the reverend through the vestibule to the door leading to the altar. Mont blew out a breath, and stepped into the church where their guests were waiting and watching. Micah followed behind and took his place alongside him at the altar. Suddenly, nerves go the better of Mont and his thoughts began to race with everything that could go wrong. He glanced at Micah. “You have the ring, right?” Micah chuckled. “Yes. You’ve asked me like a thousand times. I have it right here.” He tapped the pocket of his suit, and then a worried expression crossed his face. “I thought I had it…” “What?” Mont almost yelled, but quickly lowered his voice.

“Relax, buddy, I’m joking.” “You’re such a dead man,” Mont grumbled, making Micah chuckle. The music started and both men turned to look toward the back door. Mont watched as Patsy slowly walked down the aisle, and chuckled when he heard Micah mutter. “Damn pixie.” A moment later, Micah joined him as they both hissed in a breath when Isabella appeared on her father’s arm. She looked so beautiful Mont almost fell to his knees. Her father wore a pleased and very proud smile on his face as he walked her slowly toward Mont. He was glad his in-laws accepted him, considering all that had happened. Mont stepped forward to take Isabella’s hand and she smiled up at him. His heart slammed into his ribs. He loved her so much and life was so good. “You look beautiful, princess Bella,” Mont whispered, his nerves suddenly vanishing seeing the love in her eyes. “And you look very handsome in your tux,” Isabella whispered breathlessly, her smile brightening with his compliment and her cheeks flushing with a sweet blush. He winked at her. “Are you ready to do this, darlin’?” “More than ready,” Isabella whispered. Together they stepped toward the reverend and Mont gave him a nod. The ceremony began, and as he said his vows, Mont squeezed her hands and smiled when she squeezed back. Isabella repeated her vows in a soft but steady voice. He couldn’t resist giving her a quick kiss. The reverend cleared

his throat, and Isabella chuckled when Mont shrugged at him. As soon as the reverend pronounced them man and wife, Mont gathered her into his arms and kissed her again, this time with more fervor. “We can get started on adding to our family now,” he said against her lips. Isabella smiled up at him. “We may have already. If you remember, once again, we didn’t use a condom the day you came back to me or any time since.” Mont jerked back, staring at her, and when she nodded her head and grinned, he burst out laughing. Everyone in attendance smiled and clapped. He was sure no one heard their conversation, but everyone was very happy for them. He hugged his wife tight, thinking how wonderful his life was and when she looked up at him, his breath caught in his throat as he gazed down into her beautiful face. “I hope we did, princess. I definitely want more babies with you. I want at least fifty years with you and I promise I’ll never leave you again. Not in this life or beyond, Bella.” Isabella blinked back tears from her eyes. “I want all of that too, Montgomery.” Then she crinkled her brow as if contemplating his words. “Fifty years or more with you? Yes, I can do that.” She threw her arms around his neck, laughing as he spun her around, and when Mont picked her up to carry her back up the aisle, everyone cheered. Once he reached the front door of the church, he set Isabella on her feet, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her. When she leaned into him, the kiss

deepened and Mont thought about fifty years with this woman. Yes, he could do that, and more.

*The End*

About the Author Susan Fisher-Davis was born and raised in Cumberland, MD. She moved to Tennessee in 1996 with her husband and they now live in a small town outside of Nashville, along with their three rescued dogs. “JAKE” is the first book of nine in The Men of Clifton, Montana series. Although, writing for years, it was a year ago she decided to submit to publishers and signed a three year contract with Secret Cravings Publishing. Susan is a huge Nashville Predators hockey fan. She also enjoys fishing, taking drives down back roads, and visiting Gatlinburg, TN, her family in Pittsburgh, PA and her hometown. The Bad Boys of Dry River will consist of six books, beginning with “LUCAS”. Although Susan’s books are a series, each book can be read as standalone books. Each book will end with a new story beginning in the next one. She would love to hear from her readers and promises to try to respond to all. She would also appreciate reviews if you’ve read her books.

You can visit her Facebook page and website by the links below. Email address: [email protected]

Other books by Susan include: JAKE Men of Clifton, Montana Book 1 GABE Men of Clifton, Montana Book 2 BRODY Men of Clifton, Montana Book 3 LUCAS Bad Boys of Dry River, Wyoming Book 1

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Susan Fisher-Davis - Bad Boys of Dry River 02 - Montgomery

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