Authors: Kate Richards
Text copyright ©2016 by the Author.
This work was made possible by a special license through the Kindle Worlds publishing program and has not necessarily been reviewed by Desiree Holt. All characters, scenes, events, plots and related elements appearing in the original The Omega Team remain the exclusive copyrighted and/or trademarked property of Desiree Holt, or their affiliates or licensors.
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Welcome to my second contribution to the amazing Kindle World of the Omega Team. Ever since reading Desiree Holt’s first three stories I have been enthralled by the adventures of the men and women who make up the Omega Team and I am honored to be a part of this unique series with all its suspense, adventure and, of course, romance.
we visit the gorgeous High Sierras in Northern Nevada, one of my favorite places in the world. Cowboys and casinos, towering mountains and verdant valleys, ghost towns from the 1800s…is it any wonder so many people visit there and stay to make it their home?
Thank you a thousand times for reading Spurs. I hope you enjoy the story and will take the opportunity to read each and every installment of the Omega Team. I love to hear from readers, so please friend me on social media or send me a
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Ryder Carmichael is the man to defend the family ranch
…if he weren’t home recovering from an injury sustained while on a secret mission in South America. The Vibora, the new deadly weapon, stung him and he fears his military career may be over. He and Andrew, his twin brother, are stunned to learn the man sent by the Omega Team to help with cattle rustlers is none other than a blood relation, Carson Ames, who until this moment believed he had no relatives at all.
Isbet Gutierrez also has a secret past
that threatens her present and future, but her assignment for the Omegas to find any living relations of Carson has been completed. By all rights, she could leave the guest ranch run by the Carmichaels, yet curiosity to see the reunion and an attraction for one of the brothers gets her to extend her stay.
Resolving a cattle rustling issue should be easy
for Carson and his cousins except the real crime going on in the high pastures involves a threat to not only their livelihood but national security. They are diving deeper into perilous territory and it’s a very bad time to fall in love. Ryder’s injury will not heal, and Isbet’s former superiors will not let go. The ranch has been invaded by some of the most evil men in the world. How can they start something when their lives are not quite their own? But how can they deny what their hearts and their minds…and their bodies…insist on claiming?
“I can’t possibly have a cousin.” Carson Ames sank back into the guest chair opposite Grey Holden’s desk in the Omega Team’s Florida headquarters. “I never even had an aunt. Except Rosie, of course, but she isn’t a real aunt.” Although in many ways she’d done more for him than any blood relation. The agency that assigned her to raise him was so undercover even he didn’t know what the acronym stood for. However, she’d done more for him than anyone could have asked for. “Did Rosie have a kid?” One she’d already raised by the time she took on the care of a heartbroken five-year-old?
Hell, he still had so few memories of the time before, more like snapshots in his dreams. If it weren’t for Sophia, his best friend from his toddler years, who’d miraculously appeared in his life, and whose memories were more intact, he might think his actual past another attempt to deceive him by a small, thoughtless segment of the government he’d served.
“You have two, actually.” Grey shook his head and shoved a folder across the desk. “And they are real cousins. Turns out your uncle was a rancher in the High Sierras outside of Reno. Ran cattle and bred a few horses. He died last year, followed by your aunt, and when Ryder and Andrew, your cousins, went through his papers, they found some mention of your mother and father—they never knew he had a cousin, or an aunt and uncle either.”
He tried to take it in. Growing up with Aunt Rosie, who he thought was his only living relative, he’d been shocked to learn his odd dreams were in fact memories of his first half decade. What other kid was raised in spy story foster care?
“If I had an uncle, why didn’t he take me in when my parents died…didn’t he want me?” He understood his cousins had no knowledge of him, but their ignorance didn’t explain the adults. His chest twisted, cutting off his air for a moment before he regained control. “Strike that. Who would have even told him he had a nephew?”
Grey, blessedly, let his emotional slip pass. “With him and your aunt both gone, there’s no real way to know for sure.”
And wasn’t that just the way things had gone? Parents he couldn’t remember—except in odd snapshot like images and dreams—and now an aunt and uncle who he could have known. If only his bastard of a CO had included the information when he shattered his world with the news his parents had been sleepers in the USSR before its collapse. “Wouldn’t the agency have placed me with them? My real family?”
It seemed every time he got up, something else kicked his feet out from under him. He’d already given up his military career when his CO caused a loss of faith. Perhaps it had been a mistake. The focus on one dangerous mission after another provided a distraction, and the ability to just shut down and follow orders might be soothing now.
But, in Special Forces, it had never really been like that. Had it? The mission laid out, the directives clear…but, once behind enemy lines, he’d been expected to think on his feet. And think clearly. Shutting down would have meant death for him or someone else.
“Who knows what went on in those paranoid days? I—”
“Carson?” Athena, Grey’s partner in business and life, peeked in the door. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to listen in, but I think it’s important you don’t feel pressured to accept this assignment. We understand you need to focus to do your job, and if you don’t feel you can do it, we’ll send someone else.”
“I don’t understand how you knew I was related to these cowboys or ranchers or whatever they are.”
She slipped inside and sat next to him, resting a hand on his arm. “We had already located them and—”
Carson jerked away. “You found my family and didn’t tell me? And they just happened to hire us? How long have you known I had cousins out there?” A horrible thought occurred to him. “Did you know in time for me to meet my aunt and uncle?” Surely they couldn’t be so cruel.
A soft smile tilted her lips, and Grey came to stand next to her. “Of course not. And it is a strange coincidence. The private investigator we used only called in the info yesterday. They followed a lot of dead ends before they ran the leads to ground. I’m sorry, Carson. We hoped to help you put together more of your past, or at least your family’s past. Ryder and Andrew’s mother was your father’s sister.
For a moment, he actually considered declining the assignment. If his family hadn’t been part of his life until now, why, when he finally was getting things in order, when he’d finally met Sophia, the woman of his dreams, finally worked the job of his dreams, should he risk his peace of mind?
But he hadn’t risked his life for his country in over a dozen foreign lands because he feared for his safety or avoided confrontation.
He opened the folder on the desk in front of him. “Just tell me I’m traveling commercial this time. I am not riding in your buddy’s puddle jumper all the way to Reno, Nevada.”
Ryder Carmichael paced back and forth across the ranch living room, stumbling over the uneven board by the fireplace every time he passed it, his wounded leg sending a flame of pain into his groin. He’d always been such a fast healer, until now.
“Maybe you should sit down.” Andrew lounged against the mantel, his easy, annoying grin in place as always. The man never seemed bothered by anything, as if he didn’t realize how serious the situation was. If they couldn’t resolve the issue, they’d have to shut down the ranch.
“Chill, he’ll be here.”
“Why are you so sure of him? I cannot believe you’re putting our livelihood in the hands of a cousin we never even heard of. For all we know, he’s a fraud.” His temperature rose, thinking about it. “Don’t you think it’s odd just when we learn we have relatives, their son turns up out of nowhere?”
Andrew crossed his arms over his chest. “The Omega Team vets its employees. So even if he’s not much of a relative, he should have the skills we need to clear up our little problem.”
“Cattle rustlers are not a little problem.”
“We know there’s been activity in the high pastures, but no cattle have gone missing yet.”
Why did Andrew insist on minimizing things standing to ruin them? “Even if he is our cousin, we don’t know him. Where the heck has he been all these years? He’d better be prepared to answer some questions.”
His brother shrugged. “I don’t know. I understand everyone employed by the Team has a background in either law enforcement or the military. Maybe he was in one of the Special Forces, like you. For that matter, where have you been all these years?”
Ryder stopped his endless march, facing away from him. “You know I can’t tell you about my missions. Even if you are my brother. My team is still out there somewhere, and their safety depends on absolute secrecy.”
“But you know where they are, right?”
Of course he knew where the rest of the men were. Between the burn of his healing wounds and the vivid nightmares of the firefight in the South American country, he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since his return. “I can’t tell you whether I do.”
“Are they still on the same mission? Wherever you were when you took that projectile—whatever it was—to the upper thigh? Shit, Ryder, you can’t even tell me what hit you. What makes you think our new cousin can share his past?”
He snorted out a breath. “What makes you think he was in the Forces? He might have been a sheriff or something.”
Andrew shrugged again. Ryder wanted to punch him out. There’d never been a more annoying brother in the history of sibling-hood. “Maybe so. But he doesn’t owe us anything. He’s coming here as an employee of Omega Team to help us with our nighttime visitors.”
“I just don’t trust a coincidence. I want to know more.” He hadn’t survived so long in the Forces without being wary.
“If his branch of the family wasn’t interested in us all these years, even when Mom and Dad were sick and dying, what makes you think he’d want to share secrets with us?” Andrew straightened and stretched. “Either way, it’s lunchtime, and I am going to join our guests.”
“And one more thing. What made you think taking on dudes would be a good idea?” No matter how tight things got, their parents never made such a bonehead move. Carmichael Ranch was not and never would be a “dude” ranch. “Our breeding program and grass-fed beef will make us more than solvent in five to ten years.”
His brother paused in the doorway to the dining room. “I agree,” he said in a soft voice, but the flash in his gray eyes showed the fire inside the calm exterior. “But you’ve been gone for ten years already. Dad had to pay a lot of help, and he invested maybe more than was wise in the new cattle. Without the guests, we wouldn’t last very long.”
Ryder marched toward the wraparound porch, the hitch in his step fueling his anger. With all the effort he put into staying in tip-top shape, it galled him one injury could not only take him out of the action, permanently, but make even sitting a horse an exercise in agony. Was it permanent? Shoving the screen door open, he marched outside into the cool morning air and leaned on the wooden railing.
The mountain view had always soothed his spirit like nothing else. Even in late May, the higher peaks wore a snowy frosting and the trees of the foothills sloped down to meet the meadows and pastures of their properties. But, since his return, no peace accompanied his steps. And his brother, who’d left the ranch only long enough to obtain a degree at the College of Agriculture, Biology, and Natural Resources at University of Nevada, Reno—a fancy name for a school where he’d studied animal husbandry—less than two hours away. He’d been near enough to come home and work the place every weekend and holiday and brought his ideas for improving their stock home with him like an award.
Behind him, the screen door opened, and he knew it was her before she spoke. “Another beautiful day.”
“Yep.” He focused on the highest peak in the distance, refusing to turn to the compact, dark-haired woman who arrived at his side and rested her long, neat fingers on the railing next to his. “Our specialty.” An excellent example of why the “guest ranch” idea was a bad one. Everywhere he went, one of the dudes was wandering around, getting in trouble or asking questions. Andrew could just hop on a horse and ride out to the far pastures anytime he wanted, but, until the doctor released him, Ryder was limited in his ability to escape. He’d be on a mount himself if he didn’t fear disobeying doctors’ orders would ruin the small chance he had of going back to his real job
He could drive to town, but two hours was pretty far to go to do what? Eat a meal? Gamble in one of the casinos filled with more tourists? See a movie? None of it held any appeal. God, it hurt to be useless.
An image of the night he’d been wounded flashed through his mind. How was his team doing? With him waiting for his likely final discharge papers, they might not be his team anymore. When he called the CO, all he got was, everything’s fine, don’t worry. How could he not?
His examination by a military physician next week would decide his fate.
“Yeah, I guess it is.” Her smooth voice rolled over him and he turned, a puppet controlled by the strings of her perfection.
“Is what?” His dry throat pushed the words out with difficulty.
“Your specialty, beautiful days.” She nudged him with a shoulder. “I guess you’ve taken over for Mother Nature.” Dark eyes twinkled at him, and her soft mocha-brown curls bounced around her face with the slightest movement. Her sky-blue tank top revealed arms with enough toned muscle to take on an enemy in hand-to-hand. Full, high breasts and a trim waist left no doubt of her femininity, but she never giggled or flirted. Yet, she could make him laugh.
What was her name again? Isbet something.
His gaze locked onto hers, mesmerized by the tiny gold sparkles in the sea of darkness. He couldn’t remember a woman with prettier eyes, or one who bothered him more.
After a long moment of silence, she smiled. “Sarge sent me to call you to lunch.”
Shaking his head, Ryder broke their staring contest. “I’m not hungry.” He never was, anymore, but his dismissals didn’t stop their cook from ordering him in to every meal, and he didn’t have the oomph to argue, despite his lack of appetite.
“Nonetheless, I don’t think he’ll feed me if you don’t come, and you’ve never seen a plate of Philly cheesesteak sandwiches so mouthwatering. Carmichael Ranch has the best food for an all-inclusive. If I stay here much longer, I’ll need to buy new jeans.”
The worn, pale-blue denim she wore clung to her curved hips and legs like a second skin. If there weren’t a gaggle of dudes all over the place, he would have tossed her over the rail and skinned them off her. “We can’t have that, can we? Be a shame to waste good jeans.”
“So you’re coming in to eat?” She held the screen door open invitingly.
“I guess so.” The scent of grilled onions wafted out to him, and his stomach growled.
“I plan to eat at least two or three sandwiches,” she said, following him through the big, airy living room.
For such a small person, she put away a lot of calories at every meal—not that he’d been watching her eat. “A few more holes in those jeans and you’ll be putting on a show.” One he’d pay a big price to see. A grin tugged at his lips at the image.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I’ll have to run an extra five miles tonight.” He liked to watch that, too, from his window. Under ordinary circumstances, he’d have joined her.
They entered the dining room where a dozen chattering “guests,” as his brother insisted he refer to the greenhorns who stayed at Carmichael to have the “ranch experience,” stuffed their faces with thick sandwiches, side by side with the hands who happened to be near enough to come in and eat. Mostly men, but a few women came to ride horses, feed stock, and generally wear new boots that left blisters on their feet. His grandfather must be rolling over in his grave.
His mother took such pride in this room, the long polished table and matching chairs, the wide oak board floor. She’d loved feeding the hands, making sure they had plenty to eat. He always missed her most in here.
Still, he settled into an empty chair next to Isbet, and the dude—his brother could control his speech a bit but not his thoughts—to his left passed him the platter of sandwiches.
He placed a sandwich on his plate. Grilled slices of beef from their own stock melded with onions, bits of sautéed garlic and peppers and jack cheese. Sarge had his own recipes for everything, mixed with ideas he got from endlessly watching the Food Network in his free time. Ryder thought he tasted a little bourbon in here.
Filling his glass from the unsweetened tea pitcher, he took a deep drink and lifted the sandwich. Beside him, Isbet worked her way through her first cheesesteak and a mound of crispy homemade potato chips and reached for another sandwich. Where did she put all the food?
He took a bite and then another, chewing, swallowing, and washing it down with tea. He’d never heal if he didn’t feed his body—although such heavy food might not be what the docs had in mind. And the guests raved around him. When Sarge came out of the kitchen with a half dozen pies on a tray, spontaneous applause broke out.
At least Ryder had made it through half of his sandwich. Accepting the warm piece of Sarge’s famous cinnamon apple pie topped with a melting scoop of ice cream flecked with vanilla bean and scented with another hint of bourbon, he dug in with determination.
Isbet hummed over her dessert. “I may never leave.”
He scooped up another bite, the soft, sliced apples going down easier than most food did. “Don’t they feed you at home?”
“I live alone. There’s no they.”
So no husband or live-in lover
. If he’d been on the prowl, he’d have considered it good news.
She dipped her spoon into the ice cream, laid it on her tongue upside down, savored, and swallowed. “I eat out mostly. Fast food.”
“You got that body on chicken nuggets?”
. Her trim curves did not speak of junk food.
“No, I make better choices when I can. But, with my working hours, I don’t often have time to cook.” She scraped the last of the apple juices off her plate and pushed it away. “I want more, but I’d probably explode.”
He set his fork down; at least he’d made a dent. “Make a mess in here and Sarge will have your head.”
“Can’t have that.” She laughed, a warm, musical sound that had every male head at the table turning toward her.
What the hell.
“Seriously, I’ve eaten better meals here in the past couple of weeks than I’ve had in years.”
Even their mother wasn’t a better cook, although she made more plain ranch food, and used less booze in it.
One of the younger cowboys rose and began to clear the dishes into a plastic tub. How his brother had gotten them to take turns busing, he’d never know. The dudes and the rest of the hands scattered, off to whatever activities they had planned for the afternoon, but he and Isbet still sat in companionable silence.
Finally, she stood. “I guess I’d better head out and try to walk this lunch off.”
He shoved his chair back so fast it rocked on its legs, and she arched a brow at him. “I’ll come with you.”
Dang, be more eager why don’t you?
“That is, if you don’t mind. I walk pretty slowly these days.”
“Sure, let’s go. Maybe you can give me the grand tour.”
He grabbed a couple of water bottles from the sideboard and held the door open for her.
She led the way down the porch steps. “Football injury?”