The Texas Ranger's Reward (Undercover Heroes)

BOOK: The Texas Ranger's Reward (Undercover Heroes)
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Is He Seeing Double?

He can’t believe his eyes. When Travis Stillman meets Melissa
Dalton, it’s as if he’s seeing the ghost of his late wife. That explains why his
young son warms to Melissa so quickly. The orthopedic therapist is working
wonders to help Casey readjust after an accident—his boy has come alive again.
But that’s no reason for this former Texas Ranger to let his guard down as he
settles into life as a P.I. and single dad. No woman can replace his
wife—especially not one who could be her twin.

And when Melissa hires him to investigate a break-in at her
family’s cabin, he’s even more determined to ignore the growing attraction
between them. Now he’s got to protect both Melissa, and his heart.

Travis came around to Melissa’s side of the Jeep

She lowered the window. Their faces were only inches apart.
It was madness, but she ached for him to kiss her. If he ever got the urge,
would he pretend she was his wife? She couldn’t bear the thought.

His eyes played over her features. “You made this evening
more memorable for us than you know,” he said. She felt his warm breath on her
mouth. Only a little closer… “How do I thank you?”

The blood pounded in her ears. “You’re already doing that by
agreeing to track down the people making our family’s life miserable. It’s a
miracle you’ve already unearthed so much. Who else but a Texas Ranger could do
what you’ve done?”

He let out a sigh. Maybe he didn’t like remembering he had a
job to do. “Speaking of your case, I was wondering if tomorrow you’d go hiking
in the forest beyond the ridge with me. Since we’re going to a new area, I
thought we’d take my truck. Bring a backpack with the things you’ll want.”

What Melissa wanted was right here, and she didn’t want to
have to wait until tomorrow. “I’ll be ready.”

Dear Reader,

Have you ever been told you looked like someone else, or that
someone else looked like you?

Did you like being compared?

Several times in life I’ve been told I looked like someone
else, or acted like someone else, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to be ME. It
gets into all the questions of comparisons, whether good or bad. Though we
simply brush off these comments and go on, I think we all care to varying
degrees.

In
The Texas Ranger’s Reward,
I
thought about this problem and decided to magnify it to the point that it
becomes one of the linchpins of the plot concerning the hero and heroine.
Strongly resembling someone else can lead to all kinds of consequences. In my
story it raises doubts, picks away at self confidence, arouses anger, destroys
trust. The more I wrote, the more fascinated I became to see the way it produced
so many issues on so many levels. I hope as you read, you’ll find this element
in my story fascinating, too. Most of all, I hope you’ll find the resolution
satisfying.

Enjoy!
Rebecca Winters

The Texas Ranger’s Reward

Rebecca Winters

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Winters, whose family of four children has now
swelled to include five beautiful grandchildren, lives in Salt Lake City, Utah,
in the land of the Rocky Mountains. With canyons and high alpine meadows full of
wildflowers, she never runs out of places to explore. They, plus her favorite
vacation spots in Europe, often end up as backgrounds for her romance novels,
because writing is her passion, along with her family and church. Rebecca loves
to hear from readers. If you wish to email her, please visit her website,
www.cleanromances.com
.

Books by Rebecca Winters

HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE

1261—THE CHIEF RANGER
1275—THE RANGER’S
SECRET
1302—A MOTHER’S WEDDING DAY
   
 “A Mother’s Secret”
1310—WALKER: THE RODEO
LEGEND
1331—SANTA IN A STETSON
1339—THE BACHELOR
RANGER
1367—RANGER DADDY
1377—A TEXAS RANGER’S CHRISTMAS
1386—The
SEAL’s PROMISE*
1398—THE MARSHAL’S PRIZE*

*Undercover Heroes

To my dear sister Kathie, who is kind enough to read my novels
and always gets the essence of what I’m trying to say. Even better, we have long
discussions that thrill my heart.

Chapter One

Melissa Dalton pulled her red-and-black Jeep Wrangler
into the parking lot outside the entrance to the Lone Peak Children’s Physical
Therapy Clinic with no time to spare before her first appointment at
eight-thirty. She lived on Salt Lake City’s southeast bench, in the Sandy area,
close to the Wasatch Mountains, and the new facility was only five minutes from
her town-house condo.

How typical of her that even though she lived so close, she was
still going to be late!

Waving to her friend Rosie, another therapist who’d just
arrived, she hurried into the building and then her office, ready to go. As was
her custom, she’d caught her shoulder-length hair at her nape so it wouldn’t get
in the way while she worked with one of her patients.

Today she’d worn a floppy French clip bow in navy to match her
short-sleeved navy-and-white print top, and designer jeans. She’d put pearl
studs in her ears. Melissa believed in dressing up as much as possible so she
wouldn’t look clinical. No lab coat for her. It made the kids nervous. Children
who had to see her on a regular basis liked it when she came wearing something
fashionable.

What she wore on her feet had to be comfortable for work, of
course, but little girls often commented on her cute candy-apple-red flats. And
her bangle bracelets, which came in gold, silver and jeweled tones. It was also
important that she smelled good and kept her nails manicured. Children noticed
everything. When she was looking her best, the sessions seemed brighter for the
kids. Which made Melissa feel better about herself.

After the trauma leading up to her divorce six years ago, she’d
gone through a period where she hadn’t paid attention to her clothes or hair.
But once she’d gone into pediatric orthopedic physical therapy, the children
asked so many personal questions that she’d begun to look at herself again and
care about her appearance. It was her young patients who helped pull her out of
her depression. She loved them and enjoyed working with them.

Susan, the receptionist, had put a new file on her desk. It was
a pertinent history sent by a doctor. Melissa sat down in her swivel chair to
read it.

Casey Stillman, Salt Lake, seven, broken left femur after fall
from a horse July 27. Plated and screwed while in surgery. See X-rays.
Successful. Anticipate complete recovery. Given crutches. Was home-schooled
during recuperation period. As of Friday, September 7, father indicates son
still clings to crutches and is anxious about bearing weight. Patient should be
done with them. No physical reason for them now. Is afraid to go to school.
Recommend therapy. Pain and muscle soreness expressed, but wonder if there’s a
psychological issue.

Melissa glanced at the calendar. It was September 10. At more
than five weeks following an accident, most children were pretty well back to
normal, but others…

* * *


T
AKE
AS
LONG
AS
YOU
NEED
, bud. It’s
okay.” Concerned by his lack of progress, Travis Stillman eyed his son, who was
still dependant on his crutches. According to the doctor, Casey shouldn’t need
them anymore, thus the referral to visit someone who could work with him.

Halfway from Travis’s blue Altima to the door of the clinic,
Casey stopped. “My leg hurts.” He was close to tears.

“I know, but pretty soon it will go away.” Travis prayed that
was true. Today was Monday, Casey’s twentieth day of missing school. Though he’d
kept up with his lessons at home, who knew how long it would take before he was
ready to rejoin his second-grade class?

Travis held the door as his son hobbled into the clinic. “I
don’t want to go in there,” Casey wailed as they approached the front desk.

The receptionist smiled. “It won’t take long.” She indicated
the therapist’s office—the first door down the hall on the right.

Travis didn’t dare offer to pick up his son and carry him. His
boy was proud as blazes. Lately, Travis’s sister, Pat, had been reminding him
that Casey was a chip off the old block. But since his fall, too much pride had
turned Casey into a hermit.

He wouldn’t give up the crutches, and he didn’t want to play
with his cousins, let alone the neighbors’ children. Forget going to school.
Travis’s friend Mitch Garrett, one of the P.I.s who worked with him at the Lufka
Private Investigator firm in Salt Lake, had brought over his newly adopted son,
Zack, several times to play. But Casey was having none of it—he’d been too down
since the accident.

They were almost to the office in question when someone called
out, “Hi, Casey! Wow! Look at you handle those crutches!”

The cheerful-sounding female voice caused Travis to look up. He
did a triple take when he saw a knockout woman with ash-brown hair standing
outside the office door. She looked like a model.

She walked toward them and stopped in front of Casey, making
Travis aware of her flowery fragrance. “My name’s Melissa.
You
look fine, but I want to hear what happened to your horse. Did
it live?”

The question was so unexpected, Casey laughed. “Yes.”

“What’s his name?”

“Sugar.”

“Isn’t that kind of a wuss name?”

“Yes.”

“Who’s this with you?” Her dancing eyes lifted to Travis. For
some reason the mix of blue and gray was disturbing to him, but he couldn’t
figure out why.

“My dad.”

“How do you do, Dad,” she teased. “Come with me, Casey, and
let’s talk about how boring it’s been for you this past month.”

A bemused Travis followed them and received another surprise
when instead of into her office, she took them to the next door down the hall.
The room turned out to be a sunny space containing physical therapy equipment.
What? No discussion first?

While Travis looked on, the therapist said to Casey, “I’ll take
your crutches.”

“What if I fall down?”

“I’ll catch you.”

Travis watched as his son thought about it, then gave them up.
The therapist promptly put them on the floor. “Okay. Let’s see you walk.”

“I—I can’t. My leg hurts.”

“Don’t you know that’s a good thing?”

He blinked. “It is?”

“Absolutely. The muscles want to move and it means you’re
getting well. But if you’ll walk without the crutches, it will help you get
better even faster. Don’t worry if it hurts. A little pain doesn’t matter. My
first dog lost his hind leg when a car hit him. He had to learn to walk on three
legs, without any crutches.”

“He did?”

“Yes, and it hurt to have to do that. But he was a trooper, and
pretty soon all the pain went away. Have you ever had a dog?”

“Yes. We’ve got one now. He’s a Scottish terrier.”

“What’s his name?”

“Dexter.”

“Well, then…you need to take Dexter on lots of walks, but you
can’t do that with those crutches. Let’s walk around the room together. If you
think you’re going to fall, put out your hand.”

“Okay.”

Travis was astonished that his son would actually do as she
asked. When he began taking one tentative step, then another, Travis was elated,
but also experienced a feeling of resentment that this Melissa could get his son
to perform so easily. The feeling grew when Casey reached for her only once in
the journey around the big room. Casey was still favoring his left leg, but this
was the most he’d walked without help since the operation!

Melissa picked up the crutches and fitted them back under his
arms. “You walked perfectly. And even though it hurt, you’re still alive,
right?”

Casey nodded with a smile, a reaction that shocked Travis.

“Come to my office and I’ll give you a prize for doing a
brilliant job this morning.”

“What kind of prize?”

The way Casey was chatting with the woman, you’d have thought
they were old friends. The change in Casey’s behavior was nothing short of
amazing. Too amazing, Travis thought, before realizing he was being
uncharitable. She’d been working wonders with his boy.

When they walked through the door, he thought they’d entered a
children’s art museum. On one of the walls a large corkboard was covered in
childlike drawings pinned up with colored tacks. Two other walls contained
framed, stylized superheroes and animals painted in bright colors. He didn’t
recognize any of them, which meant they were original—and totally riveting.
Casey looked around in delight.

Along the wall by the door sat a big pirate treasure chest.
When the therapist opened the lid, Travis saw it was chock-full of store-bought
toys in their packaging. This was much better than getting a look inside Santa’s
pack. Despite his conflicted feelings about Melissa, Travis couldn’t seem to
take his eyes off her sensational figure as she started rummaging through the
toys.

“Hmm, let me see…” Travis could tell Casey’s interest was
piqued. In fact, he was getting impatient waiting for her to decide. “Ah. Here’s
the one I was looking for.” She pulled out a package. “Hand me your crutches and
I’ll let you open it.”

This time Casey hardly hesitated before he did her bidding.
Travis could see that his son stood just fine without any support. She exchanged
the crutches for the package. It took a minute for him to get it unwrapped.

“Look, Dad—a new leash for Dexter!” That was the biggest burst
of happiness he’d heard from his son since before his fall. For the moment Casey
had forgotten the pain in his leg.

“How about that, bud.” Travis had tried bribery on him, but
without the same result. Those were some pricey items he could see in that
pirate chest. The therapist seemed to be doing everything right. His perturbance
made no sense at all.

“When you get home, you’ll have to take Dexter for a walk with
it.” She picked up the empty carton and tossed it in the wastebasket. “Want to
give it to your dad to hold?”

Travis took it from him. The retractable leash would handle
their twenty-two-pound Scottie without a problem.

After she’d helped him with his crutches, she said, “You can go
home now.”

Casey’s eyes rounded. “You mean I don’t have to get up on a
table or anything?”

Her mouth curved into a big smile. “Nope. That’s because you’re
all better. When you come back tomorrow morning, I’ll let you look through the
chest and pick out your own prize—
if
you walk all
the way in from the car without your crutches. I’ll be watching from the front
door.”

“I…think I’ll be able to do it.” His son was pretty
transparent.

“Great! In that case I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

Casey grinned. “Thanks for the leash. Blue’s my favorite
color.”

“Mine, too.” She flicked her floppy bow to show him. Travis
noted her bracelets, and saw she wore no rings on either hand. “I like blueberry
popsicles, as well.”

“So do I!” Casey actually laughed. “Are you really a
doctor?”

“No, but don’t I look like one?”

“No,” Casey said. “You’re too pretty.”

Travis eyed his son in surprise.

“Well, thank you. I used to be a nurse. Then I trained to
become an orthopedic therapist. That means I work with patients after their
doctor has seen them.”

She finally glanced at Travis, just as he thought she’d
forgotten him altogether. “We’ll see you and your son in the morning. I’ll put
you down on my calendar for the same time, unless that’s a problem.”

“No. We’ll be here at eight-thirty. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Bye, Casey.”

“See ya,” he called back.

Travis followed him out the door. Maybe it was his imagination,
but he thought Casey walked most of the way, and used his crutches only for
show. When they reached the car, Travis helped him in the back and fastened the
seat belt.

In another minute they were on their way home. Instead of
complaining, Casey played with the leash. “That was fun! I can’t wait to get my
prize tomorrow.”

“Remember what Melissa said?”

“Yeah. I gotta walk all the way from the car into the building
and not use my crutches. I can do that.”

Travis smiled tightly and didn’t ask any more questions. For
the rest of the drive he remained immersed in thought. There’d been no
preliminary discussion, and she’d given Travis no follow-up instructions.
Nothing! It had irritated the hell out of him.

Not until he pulled in the driveway did he discover what was
wrong with him.

There was an old saying about every person on earth having a
double. This morning that saying had particular meaning for him.

He’d just come face-to-face with a woman who resembled, in
looks and personality, his murdered wife, Valerie.

Travis was convinced that was the reason Casey had undergone a
miraculous change at the therapist’s hands. Although she was a younger version,
Melissa Dalton had Valerie’s sunny disposition and a way of making challenging
things sound like fun. Her appealing energy had captured his son’s attention,
and he’d wanted her approval. But the very qualities about her that had caused
the first therapy session to go so well haunted Travis.

He dreaded the thought of having to see her again in the
morning. It had been fifteen months since he’d buried his wife in Texas. Melissa
had unwittingly brought certain memories back to life. Casey’s willingness to do
what she wanted might have been unconscious, but his son had definitely
responded because of deeply embedded memories, too.

It was going to be a long day and an even longer night, because
Travis knew there’d be little sleep for him.

* * *

M
ELISSA
LEFT
FOR
WORK
on Tuesday morning curious to
see if the skinny, brown-haired Stillman boy would let go of his crutches for
good. She knew there was nothing wrong with him physically.

BOOK: The Texas Ranger's Reward (Undercover Heroes)
6.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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