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Authors: Christie Ridgway

The Reckoning

BOOK: The Reckoning
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Praise for Christie Ridgway:

“Ridgway's smart, peppy style is reminiscent of Jennifer Crusie.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Wish You Were Here

“Christie Ridgway is delightful…clever and charming.”

—Bestselling author Rachel Gibson

“Hot and sassy! Ridgway rocks!”

—Bestselling author Susan Andersen

“Taking a story from today's headlines, Christie Ridgway's creative skills add engaging characters, strong chemistry and the happily-ever-after ending.”

—
Romantic Times

“Ms. Ridgway pens a pleasant tale full of strong sexual chemistry, good character development and an interesting premise.”

—
Romantic Times

“Christie Ridgway's spirited heroine, touches of humor and likable hero combine to create an animated romantic read.”

—
Romantic Times

Don't miss Signature Select's exciting series:

The Fortunes of Texas: Reunion

get swept up in twelve new stories from your favorite family!

COWBOY AT MIDNIGHT by Ann Major

A BABY CHANGES EVERYTHING by Marie Ferrarella

IN THE ARMS OF THE LAW by Peggy Moreland

LONE STAR RANCHER by Laurie Paige

THE GOOD DOCTOR by Karen Rose Smith

THE DEBUTANTE by Elizabeth Bevarly

KEEPING HER SAFE by Myrna Mackenzie

THE LAW OF ATTRACTION by Kristi Gold

ONCE A REBEL by Sheri WhiteFeather

MILITARY MAN by Marie Ferrarella

FORTUNE'S LEGACY by Maureen Child

THE RECKONING by Christie Ridgway

CHRISTIE RIDGWAY
The Reckoning

Dear Reader,

What I like about participating in a continuity series such as THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS: REUNION is that the experience always stretches me as a writer. Connecting with the other authors in the series broadens my imagination as we hash out details and share insights into our characters, making the world we develop feel even more real.

As the lucky “anchor” author for this particular series, I've had the additional pleasure of learning about what has happened in the previous books and incorporating a little bit of eleven other happy endings into the one I've written for my characters, Emmett Jamison and Linda Faraday.

Ah…Linda Faraday. Talk about broadening my horizons. She is a character who has touched my heart and brought me to an understanding and appreciation of people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury and then gone on to build new futures. She challenges Emmett's notions of strength and weakness, as well. Emmett and I are both better people for letting Linda into our lives.

I hope you enjoy this last installment of THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS: REUNION. It was written with great pleasure.

To the other authors on THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS: REUNION loop who have made this project such fun.

One

I
nside the rambling Texas ranch house were a profusion of flowers, tables groaning with food and two bars stocked with plenty of liquor. All the makings of one hell of a great party, Emmett Jamison thought from the shadowed corner where he stood. That is, if the guest of honor hadn't been dead.

“I can't believe he's gone,” he overheard a tiny, gray-haired lady by a punch bowl say to her companion. “I just can't believe that Ryan Fortune is gone.”

Emmett's eyes closed. He wished he couldn't believe it. But the older man had been diagnosed with a brain tumor several months before and despite his big, vital personality and all the family and friends who cared about him, just that morning Ryan Fortune's ashes had been spread across the lands of his beloved Double Crown Ranch.

The tragedy of it didn't surprise Emmett. All hope and optimism had been swept out of him months ago. He expected
no happy endings. He was becoming accustomed to funerals.

“Trying out for the undertaker's job?” a new voice murmured in his ear. “You've got the morose expression for it.”

“I don't take offense at your ugly mug,” he answered automatically, “so you shouldn't take offense at my unsmiling one.”

The “ugly” insult didn't have much meat to it, though, not when the man who had come up beside him was his cousin, Collin Jamison, and not when all agreed that Collin was a slightly older version of Emmett himself. They were both six feet tall and had the solid build of men whose fitness and training kept them employed—and alive. They wore their dark hair in no-nonsense military cuts, and Collin's hazel eyes were only a touch lighter than Emmett's green ones.

“You're not offending me,” Collin replied. “You're worrying me. You've got that let-me-escape-to-the-mountains look about you.”

Emmett shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark trousers. He'd holed himself up in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico following his brother Christopher's funeral last September and the tragic ending to one of his FBI cases. There, he'd tried deadening himself to that pain and all that had come before with cheap tequila and stubborn solitude. Neither had lasted long enough. When his father had brought the news that his other brother, Jason, who had been implicated in Chris's murder, had escaped from jail, Emmett had sobered up and returned to Texas. “When Dad found me in New Mexico, he confiscated the keys to the cabin and threatened to burn the place down.” Though lack of keys wouldn't stop anyone from getting into that shack. “I won't be going back there.”

“Good,” Collin said, then surveyed the crowded room. “I haven't seen Uncle Blake and Aunt Darcy, but it's wall-to-wall people. Are they here?”

Emmett shook his head. “I'm the sole representative of our branch of the Jamisons. Mom and Dad didn't feel comfortable attending, considering their son was the one who kidnapped Ryan's widow just a couple of months back.” Jason's kidnapping of Lily Fortune was what had brought his cousin Collin to Red Rock, Texas. Emmett had called him after the older woman's recovery and his brother's escape. Emmett had wanted Collin's help in stopping Jason. That job wasn't done.

Collin seemed to read his mind. “We're going to get him, Emmett.”


I'm
going to get him,” Emmett corrected, though he and the authorities on the case were fresh out of leads and they all knew it. Though Lily had been recovered, Jason had taken off with the ransom money, killing an FBI agent in the process. There hadn't been a sign of him since.

“You have Lucy to focus on now, Collin. But come hell or high water, I'm not going to let my brother make a victim of anyone else.” Jason's ugly criminal tally also included the death of his own girlfriend, Melissa, and that of a prison transport guard. Though a prison guard in on Jason's plan— McGruder—had been arrested and would stand trial for his part in the escape, it wasn't nearly enough justice. Emmett's voice lowered. “If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to make Jason pay for all the pain he's caused.”

“You're going grim on me again, buddy,” Collin warned softly. “By all means, let's get Jason safely behind bars, but not at the cost of your heart.”

Emmett had to shake his head at that. Falling in love with Lucy had done a number on his tough-natured cousin. “Romance has made you soft. You know I don't have a heart.”

And Emmett didn't feel like talking about it anymore, either. Without bothering to make an excuse, he wandered
away from his cousin, avoiding the eyes of those around him. Turning a corner, he almost knocked over an easel that held a poster-size photo. He reached out a hand to steady the smiling image of Ryan Fortune. “Husband, Father, Friend” was printed on the cardboard beneath it. “Loved By All.”

Emmett's fingers lingered on the edge of the poster. Ryan's eyes seemed to glitter as they had in life, and then Emmett felt a warm weight on his shoulder, as if the man were holding him there with a ghostly hand. To tell him something? To remind him of something?

Struck by a new, vague disquiet, Emmett hurried off, heading for the ranch house's foyer. He pushed open the heavy front door, undeterred by a blast of chilly April wind. The sky was as dark as his mood and it smelled like rain, but he needed fresh air. More, he needed to be alone. He didn't need a reminder of what he owed Ryan.

Loved By All.
That phrase flitted into Emmett's mind as he stepped outside. His brother Chris's headstone read Beloved. Jessica Chandler's family had carved In Loving Memory onto hers.

The last few years had taught that those stock phrases didn't solve one damn thing, though. They didn't make it any easier for the living to carry on. Love didn't make it any easier for the living to carry on. And love certainly didn't wake the dead.

Oblivious to the cool temperature, he leaned against one wall of the covered entryway, staring at the terra-cotta pots filled with flowers that lined the stone walkway in front of him. A few brave blooms were already showing their faces, but in May the April showers would really pay off. Emmett wondered if he'd still be in Red Rock to see it—and then admitted to himself he more than likely wouldn't notice if he were. It had been winter inside him for what seemed like aeons now.

From around the corner of the entryway, a soft, rhythmic
thup thup thup
caught his attention. Curious, he shoved his hands deeper in his pockets and drifted down the steps to take a look at what was making the noise.

It was a kid, medium-sized, in an expensive navy blazer and a pair of khakis with a streak of mud on one knee. Between his shiny loafers was a fist-size, black-and-white ball that the boy tossed upward with one foot three times,
thup thup thup,
before it fell to the stone pathway and he had to start all over again, lifting it with his toe, juggling it for a few moments, then losing it again.

Emmett's mind flashed back three months, maybe four. Then, he'd seen that same child, in a diner in Red Rock, sitting with an older couple and across from a blond woman. Emmett had only seen the blonde's back but he'd seen the tension on the boy's face.

A gust of wind tossed the kid's blond bangs around his forehead and shook a few raindrops out of the low clouds above. The kid looked up, shivered, but went back to his game. The next blast of cold wind started the rain in earnest. Emmett stepped back toward the front door, almost calling to the boy to come inside, but then he shrugged. Hell, the kid wasn't his concern.

He had other priorities.

Behind him, he heard the door open. “Richard?” a female voice called. “Richard, are you out there?”

The kid ducked his head and kept juggling the ball, despite the rain and despite the person obviously seeking him out. Shrugging again, Emmett turned toward the entryway. He'd wanted fresh air, not a fresh soaking. It was time to go back inside, find Lily and mumble some more condolences, then leave.

“Richard?” The voice floated closer.

And then, from around the corner of the house, a woman came into view.

And brought out the sun.

It was just the capricious spring weather, Emmett knew that, but it halted him midstride anyway, as a warm beam of light broke through the clouds to spotlight the woman's long blond hair, her soft white dress, her slender, delicate body.

He blinked. She was an angel, a candle, a…

A sign that he needed to get more than three hours of sleep a night, he thought, disgusted. Her gaze bounced off Emmett and then zeroed in on the boy.

“Richard—”

“Ricky, I keep telling you,” the kid muttered. “Ricky, Ricky, Ricky.”

The woman's forehead wrinkled and Emmett wondered if she might actually cry. He took a step toward her, driven by the sudden thought that he should comfort her, care for her, something, but then she squared her shoulders and her mouth turned up in a little half smile.

“Well, Ricky-Ricky-Ricky, you shouldn't be outside in the rain.”

“It's not raining anymore.”

Emmett said that. He couldn't believe he'd insinuated himself into the strangers' conversation. But then again, he couldn't believe that odd compulsion he'd had to take the woman into his arms, either. More sleep was definitely a necessity.

The woman shot him a puzzled glance, then tipped her face to the sky, like one of those flowers he'd been looking at before. Light bathed her features, illuminating her clear pale skin, her small nose and her pretty mouth.

He thought of springtime again, actually
remembered
springtime, with its warmth and sweet scents and green new
ness. His feet took another step closer to her before he stopped them.

“I guess you're right. It isn't raining anymore,” she said, closing her eyes. She swayed a bit, as if slightly unbalanced. “Doesn't the sunshine feel good?”

Emmett refused to answer the question; instead, he asked, “Who are you?” Immediately, he was aware he sounded abrupt and hostile—quite a feat for someone as naturally abrupt and hostile as himself. But the woman unsettled him, ruffled him somehow, and he wanted to figure out what it was, exactly, she did to him. And why.

To his surprise, it was the truculent kid who answered. While he had seemed peeved at the woman himself, now he moved to stand between her and Emmett, a purely protective stance. “She's Linda Faraday,” the boy said. “I'm Ricky. Who are
you?

Linda Faraday. Her son, Ricky. Emmett's gut tightened. He'd forgotten about them in the days since Ryan's death. Perhaps it explained the disquiet he'd felt when looking at the older man's photo. And perhaps it was why he'd reacted so strongly to the woman a few minutes before—his subconscious had recognized her and remembered his promise. Not the one he'd made
for
Ryan, about capturing Jason, but that promise he'd made
to
Ryan.

“Well?” the kid said. “Who are you?”

Emmett took in a long breath, then gazed into Linda Faraday's wide blue eyes.
Springtime.
He had to shove the thought away before it derailed him. “I'm the man who's going to be looking after you,” he told her.

 

Back inside the house, Emmett didn't waste any time. Rather than wandering about, Emmett asked the first person he knew if he'd seen Dr. Violet Fortune. That person had, and
Emmett strode through the somber crowds to find Dr. Fortune in the dining room, putting fruit salad on a small plate.

“I need some of your time, Violet,” he told her.

She set down the silver serving spoon, then turned and studied his face. “What you need is more rest, less guilt and a good meal or two. That'll be two hundred dollars. You can mail a check to my home office.”

“Ha-ha.” He didn't crack a smile. “I want to talk to you about Linda Faraday.”

“Oh, well, I'm not her doctor, and even if I were, I couldn't—”

“Ryan spoke to you about her, didn't he?” Linda Faraday and her son, Ricky, had been Ryan's source of guilt for over a decade, thanks to the car accident caused by his brother, Cameron, who had been driving drunk. Cameron had died in that accident, and Linda, his passenger, had been terribly hurt. Ryan had kept that secret from the public and from his family, except for Lily and Violet. Linda had been pregnant with Cameron's child. That boy was Ricky.

Violet gave a little nod. “Ryan talked about her situation more than a time or two, but it was with the understanding that the situation was confidential. I wouldn't feel right discussing—”

“Discuss traumatic brain injury with me, then.” Because that was what Linda Faraday had suffered ten years before. “And discuss comas and recovery and rehabilitation and—”

“Okay, okay.” Violet put a cool hand on his arm. “Am I to assume you mean you want to discuss these things now?”

Maybe he should have felt guilty for insisting, but he didn't. He'd felt helpless in the face of Ryan's death and stymied in discovering Jason's whereabouts, but here was something, finally, he could take action on. “Yes, now. Please,” he added as an afterthought.

Half smiling and shaking her head, Violet patted his arm. “How about we meet in the study after I give Peter a heads-up? Celeste is at home, so we didn't plan on staying long.”

Emmett grimaced. Celeste was the little girl that Peter and Violet were adopting, and she'd recently gone through serious back surgery and rehabilitation of her own. “Tell your husband I'll make it as brief as I can.”

Violet gave another shake of her head and another half smile. “You're not long-winded, I can say that for you, Emmett.”

Which meant he was brusque to a fault. But he could live with that, especially when Violet got back to him so quickly. Emmett had secured a private place for their chat on a short leather sofa in a far corner of the study. When she settled beside him, he took his eyes off the massive burl wood desk at one end of the room. “The last time I was in here, Ryan seemed to take up more space than that desk of his,” he murmured.

BOOK: The Reckoning
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