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      “Stress and naked bodies don’t mix well.”

      “Afraid I’m going to seduce you, Clint?” Macy asked softly. The sun was setting outside, lighting the tower room in a dim peach glow like candlelight.

      “I’m afraid you won’t have to,” he answered honestly.

      His life was coming apart at the seams. How easy it would be to forget his troubles in her.

      She deserved better.

      Clint faced her and couldn’t resist tucking a strand of dark, wavy hair behind her ear while she studied him with luminous eyes.

      “I don’t want to hurt you,” he breathed.

      “I don’t want to be hurt. But I would like to be held.”

      She let him decide. He liked that about her. It wouldn’t have taken much to push him over the edge. A kiss. A touch. But she stood back and let him decide.

      In the end, she didn’t have to push him over the edge.

      He leaped willingly.

      Her Last Defense

      Vickie Taylor



      has always loved books—the way they look, the way they feel and most especially the way the stories inside them bring whole new worlds to life. She views her recent transition from reading to writing books as a natural extension of this longtime love. Vickie lives in Aubrey, Texas, a small town dubbed “The Heart of Horse Country,” where, in addition to writing romance novels, she raises American Quarter Horses and volunteers her time to help homeless and abandoned animals. Vickie loves to hear from readers. Write to her at: P.O. Box 633, Aubrey, TX 76227.


      Chapter 1

      Chapter 2

      Chapter 3

      Chapter 4

      Chapter 5

      Chapter 6

      Chapter 7

      Chapter 8

      Chapter 9

      Chapter 10

      Chapter 11

      Chapter 12

      Chapter 13

      Chapter 14

      Chapter 15

      Chapter 16

      Chapter 17

      Chapter 18

      Chapter 19


      Chapter 1

      It was a perfect night in hell.

      Autumn leaves flickered silver and gold under a harvest moon. The surface of Lake Farrell, the best fishing hole in southeast Texas, rippled like black velvet. And the air, sharp with the scent of pine, was clean enough to scrub a month’s worth of city smog out of a man’s lungs with each breath.

      Once, Texas Ranger Sergeant Clint Hayes had thought the old fishing cabin his Grandpop Charlie had left him was the closest place to heaven on earth. But not any longer. Not since a pair of beady eyes and a sallow smile had begun their nightly torment from the pier where Grandpop’s old dinghy still bobbed on the swells.

      Sitting in a weathered grapevine chair on the stoop of the cabin, his bare feet propped on the porch rail, Clint narrowed his eyes and stared into the darkness, the soul of the night. “All right, you son of a bitch. This is it.”

      Only the silence answered. His gut cramped. The Glock .9-millimeter weighed heavily in his right hand. He took a moment to dry his fingers on his jeans, then jerked up the pistol and squeezed off three rounds.

      The pale, yellow eyes of his personal demon never wavered.

      Jaw clenched and a growl emanating from between his teeth, Clint emptied the clip in one long burst, then threw the gun at the hellish eyes, howling hopelessly because he knew it didn’t matter that his bullets hadn’t connected. The real monster wasn’t out there.

      It was inside him.

      Breathing hard, he stared at his right hand. Even as he watched, his fingers betrayed him, trembling beyond his control. Finally, he clenched his shaking fist, swallowed hard and accepted the inevitable.

      He couldn’t hold a gun steady any longer, and a cop who couldn’t hit what he aimed at didn’t belong on the street.

      His career was over.

      The deep quiet of the night pressed in on him. Even the nocturnal critters that usually scuttled around the cabin in the wee hours were still, scared off by the gunfire.

      An ache so deep it vibrated in his marrow pushed him to his feet and off the porch, over the carpet of pine needles toward the lake, where the yellow smiley face he’d painted on a beer bottle and set on a piling as a target goaded him in the waning moonlight.

      “You win, damn it!” he yelled as he swiped at the bottle with his foot. “Are you happy now?”

      Pain exploded up his leg as flesh and bone connected with glass and sent the bottle arcing over the water. He hopped and cursed, rubbing the sore spot.

      Well, at least some of his nerves still worked right.

      Hobbling back ashore, he allowed himself a single sardonic laugh. ‘Cool-hand Clint’ people called him. Wasn’t so cool now, was he?

      Fresh out of good curses, he turned his eyes to the black canopy overhead. He wasn’t a Ranger anymore. Couldn’t be. And without the job to ground him, he felt like a spacewalking astronaut who’d come untethered from his ship. Weightless. Rudderless. Drifting in the vast vacuum of space.

      And very, very alone.

      Searching for answers in the sky, he tried to focus on the points of light, the stars, not the boundless black void between them. Sailors used to navigate by the stars, he knew, but no matter how long he stared at them, how hard he concentrated, the chips of cold light charted no course for him.

      Sighing, he turned to head back to the cabin when a flash over his right shoulder stopped him. The light flared blue for a moment, then flamed into an orange streak. A shooting star, he thought at first, then realized it couldn’t be. It was too bright and too close, moving too slowly.

      An airplane, he realized a second later. And in trouble, by the sound of it. Its engine sputtered and whined as it passed overhead so low that Clint ducked reflexively. He just made out the shape of a small jet—blinking wing lights, oval windows in the fuselage, a flash of the white tail—before he lost sight of the aircraft behind the trees.

      His breath stalled in his chest as he waited, listening.

      The crash, when it came, wasn’t the booming explosion he expected. It sounded more like a distant car wreck. Metal screeched. Wood groaned and splintered. The air seemed to shudder around him. By the time silence had reclaimed the night, a pale glow, like a false sunrise, lit the treetops where the plane had gone down. Clint studied the fire, gauging its distance and how long it would take him to get there.

      Tomorrow he would have to call the Ranger office and tell them the truth. Tell them he could no longer be the only thing he’d ever wanted to be.

      But tonight, he was still a Texas Ranger.

      From Macy Attois’s vantage point in a helicopter hovering above the wreckage, the tail of the aircraft jutting out of the east Texas thicket looked like the rear fin

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