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Authors: Ann Major

Cowboy at Midnight

Praise for Ann Major:

“Engaging characters, stories that thrill and delight, shivering suspense and captivating romance. Want it all? Read Ann Major.”

—Nora Roberts,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Ann Major delights readers with memorable characters, sparkling dialogue and tension that sizzles.”

—bestselling author Mary Lynn Baxter

“Whenever I pick up a novel by Ann Major, I know I'm guaranteed a heartwarming story.”

—bestselling author Annette Broadrick

“No one provides hotter emotional fireworks than the fiery Ann Major.”

—
Romantic Times

“Compelling characters, intense, fast-moving plots and snappy dialogue have made Ann Major's name synonymous with the best in contemporary romantic fiction.”

—
Rendezvous

“Ann Major's SECRET CHILD sizzles with characters who leap off the page and into your heart… This one's hot!”

—bestselling author Lisa Jackson

 

Don't miss Signature Select's exciting series:

The Fortunes of Texas: Reunion

Starting in June 2005, 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

COWBOY AT MIDNIGHT
Ann Major

Dear Reader,

I hope you are well.

I had so much fun writing
Cowboy at Midnight.

I think the most important skill a human being can have is the ability to grow and change and be flexible. We all start off in the Garden of Eden, or rather childhood, where life seems simple and sometimes miraculously wonderful—at least, if we are born into happy homes.

Then something happens, like a tragedy, that forces us to grow up too suddenly, and we see ourselves and our world in a brand-new light, sometimes a darker light. We can get stuck, not wanting to move on or accept ourselves as adults or forgive ourselves for not living up to some childish, untenable ideal.

Amy, my story's heroine, lost her dearest friend at an early age and blamed herself. She has punished herself for eight years.

Then she meets Steve, my hero, and falls in love. She can't let herself have him unless she changes.

I hope you enjoy THE FORTUNES OF TEXAS: REUNION.

Happy reading,

“We must have the courage to allow a little disorder in our lives.”

—Ben Weininger

I dedicate this book to Tara Gavin, Patience Smith, Shannon Godwin, Karen Solem, Nancy Berland, and Dianne Moggy—all brilliant women! I owe you more than I can say! Thank you!

Prologue

Double Crown Ranch
Red Rock, Texas

S
omebody was going to die!

Rosita Perez
knew
this as she threw off her sheets and cotton quilt and sprang out of bed.

The room felt as icy as a meat locker. Even so, her long black hair with its distinctive white streak above her forehead was soaking wet, as was her pillow. Hot flashes, her gringo doctor would say.

Smart gringo doctors thought they knew everything.

Rosita shuddered.

Somebody was going to die. Somebody close at hand.

She was descended from a long line of
curanderos.
Since birth she'd been cursed, or blessed, with the sight.
Like her ancestors, who'd been natural healers, she saw things. She felt things that other people didn't feel.

Life wasn't lived on a single plane. Nor was the world and its machinations entirely logical, much as her good-hearted bosses, Ryan and Lily Fortune, might like to think. She'd learned to keep her visions to herself because most people, including her beloved husband, Ruben, didn't believe her.

She'd had a strange nightmare that was both a riddle and a warning. In her dream a red moon had broken out of fierce, black whirling clouds and had hovered directly over the Double Crown Ranch. When she'd run outside and looked up, the red ball hadn't been the moon but a gigantic human skull floating above Lily and Ryan Fortune's ranch house. Rosita had awakened screaming to the skull, “No! Go away!”

Feeling too afraid to risk sleep again, she pulled on her robe and tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the dark hall, taking care not to wake Ruben. Just when she thought she'd made it, she crashed into her enormous bookcase in the hallway that was crammed with books and jars of herbs. Two books tumbled to the floor with loud thumps.

She prayed silently when she heard Ruben's snoring stop in midbreath. She barely breathed until he flopped his heavy, barrellike body onto his other side and resumed his snoring. Her house was too small, and all the rooms were cluttered, even the hall.

The bed groaned. Only when Ruben continued his roaring for a full minute did she tiptoe toward the front windows of her living room.

The ominous red glow that lit the window shades made her shake even more. Sensing evil, she felt her throat tighten every time she thought about going out on her front porch.

Which was ridiculous. She'd faced cougars and bobcats and convicts on the loose while living alone on ranches. Besides, Ruben was right down the hall.

Despite her misgivings, or maybe because of them, she opened the front door and forced herself to pad bravely out onto the porch of her small house.

The dense night smelled sweetly of juniper and buzzed with the music of millions of cicadas.

Summer smells. Summer sounds. Why did they make her tremble tonight?

“Help!”

She jumped. The plaintive cry had come from nowhere and yet from everywhere. She whirled wildly, sensing a deadly presence. She sucked in a breath and stared at the dark fringe of trees that circled her home like prison walls.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

A bloodred moon the exact shade of the skull in her nightmare hung over the ranch. Circling it was a bright scarlet ring. She stared at the moon, expecting it to turn into a skull.

She kept watching the moon until it vanished behind a black cloud. She wasn't feeling any easier when a bunch of coyotes began to hoot. Then she heard a man's eerie laughter from beyond the fringe of juniper long after the coyotes stopped.

“Who's out there?” she cried.

The cicadas halted their serenade. A thousand eyes seemed to stare at her from the silent wall of dark trees.

Stark fear drained the blood from her face. She felt like a target.

With a muted cry, she raced back inside her living room with its dozens of velvet floral paintings and cozy, overstuffed furniture.

Slamming her door, she flipped on all her lights. Then she stared unseeingly at the sofa piled high with her recent purchases from a flea market—mirrored sunglasses, towel sets, children's clothes and toys, all in need of sorting. Breathing heavily, she triple-bolted the door and sagged against it.

Maybe the moon hadn't been a human skull floating above the house, but one thing was for sure—she'd never seen anything like that bloodred moon circled with a ring of fire before. Never in all her sixty-six years.

And that cry for help. And the laughter—that terrible, inhuman laughter coming from the trees…

Someone was out there. Someone with murder in his heart.

Rosita could trace her blood to prehistoric civilizations in Mexico. She knew in her bones that this moon was a sign.

The Fortunes were in trouble—again.

She'd worked for them for a long time. Too long, Ruben said. He wanted her to retire so she could focus on him. “We'll move away, not too far, but we'll have a place of our own.”

Ruben had always wanted his own land, but she
loved Ryan Fortune and his precious wife, Lily, as if they were members of her own family. She couldn't leave them. Not now! Not when she knew they needed her more than ever. In the morning she would try to warn them as she cooked them eggs and bacon and tamales and frijoles. They teased her because she cooked frijoles with every meal.

They would probably laugh at her for warning them, too. Ryan and Lily had loved each other since they were kids, but they'd had to wait a lifetime to realize their love. They wanted to be happy, and she wanted that for them, too. Why, then, did her heart feel heavy with the thought that they were doomed? Oh, dear. Maybe when the sun was high in the sky tomorrow she would be able to laugh at her fears and believe all would be well.

She made a fist. “I have to tell them anyway! First thing, when I go to the ranch house!”

When she finally stopped shaking, it was a long time before she felt safe enough to switch off a few of the lights. Even then she was still too nervous to go back to bed or to sort through her flea market purchases, so she curled up in her favorite armchair and clutched the arm-rests as if her life depended on it.

The night seemed endless. If only she could wake Ruben and tell him about the skull and the laughter.

But he would only think her stupid. He would tell her it was nothing and order her to bed. Because he was a man, he thought he knew everything.


Ya verás.
You'll see,
viejo.
You'll see when somebody dies,” she whispered, hugging herself as the shad
owy forms of the tall furniture in her living room shaped themselves into snakes and cougars and alligators.

Somebody was going to die!

 

Soon.

As soon as they reached the Double Crown Ranch, everything would be under control again, and he could focus on his plan to get even with Ryan Fortune.

The man who was driving fought to stay calm. He was as unnerved by his passenger as he was by the automatic with the silencer he'd concealed under his own floor mat, which felt like a lump under his left heel.

He disliked guns, but he liked order. He had to have everything in its exact place. His slacks were all hung together in his closet; his shoes were in shoe racks. The gun was a tool to help restore order. That was all. That was why he'd had plastic surgery, why he'd come to Texas.

Neither moon nor stars lit the wild, desolate ranch land that was owned by the man he was determined to destroy. Except for the twin cones of light arcing every time he struck a pothole or an overlarge rock and except for the interior lights of the big car, the passenger and driver were lost in a strange, pink-tinted, black void that seemed as deep and dark and endless as outer space.

“What the hell are you doing down here in Texas?” his passenger whispered in a low, raw tone from his side of the car.

The driver was tempted to brag about his clever plan. Instead he bit his lips as he whipped down the gravel county road at an even faster speed, sending rocks flying into the dark encroaching walls of cedar and oak.
One of his large, perfectly manicured, suntanned hands gripped the steering wheel; the other held a silver flask half filled with vodka. Both fists were white knuckled and shaking.

“You shouldn't have run out in the middle of those psychological tests,” the passenger said in that cool, kindly voice that sent chills through him.

The hell I need more psychological testing!

“What do you know about it?” the driver muttered, his body rigid. “I'm fine. I'm just fine.”

“Then why'd you come here? Why'd you change your face? If I didn't know you, I wouldn't have recognized you.” There was anguish and what sounded like genuine concern in his passenger's voice.

Not being recognizable was the point, of course. “Like I told you, I was in an accident.”

“Why are you stalking these people?”

The driver forced himself to take a calming breath before he replied. “You think you're so smart! You always act so nice! What do you know about anything? About me?”

“I have to try to help you—for your own good.”

The driver's mouth went dry. He could taste his fear.

Yes. His unwanted visitor could ruin everything…if he didn't tidy things up fast.

When they rumbled over a cattle guard, every bump seemed to trigger an electric current that snapped up and down the driver's legs and spine. Thoroughly shaken, he could barely control the big car as it raced almost blindly down the narrow road through buttery-thick pockets of Hill Country ground
fog before it burst out of the murk into the warm, black night again.

“Slow down,” his passenger ordered. “Are you crazy? You could hit a deer or wrap us around a tree.”

The driver lifted his flask and sipped the burning liquor as his silent brain screamed shrilly. Who do you think you are—giving me orders? You? You! Ever since we were kids? And calling me crazy?

“Sure,” he replied easily as his toe tapped a little harder on the accelerator. “I'll slow down. Sure I will. Hey, relax. We're nearly there.”

“You don't want me here, do you?” came that kindly, superior, all-knowing voice. “I could tell. Your eyes were colder than chips of black marble when you opened your door tonight. But I didn't come to scare you or hurt you.”

“Scared? Who's scared? If I seemed upset, maybe you should have called first.”

“Right. Give you time to roll out the welcome mat.” His passenger laughed.

The driver rubbed his brow where the scars from his accident should have been. Then he took another sip from the flask. Not too much. He didn't want to alarm his passenger by acting any more nervous than he had to. Slowly he dropped his hand back to the seat. He had to focus. He had to concentrate.

“No. You didn't want me here,” his passenger insisted, again in that hateful, kindly, yet all-knowing tone that the driver loathed.

The moon broke out of the cloud cover, and instantly the driver wished it hadn't. The bloodred
globe was huge and obscene and ringed with flame. Strange-looking, crimson-stained clouds scudded beneath it.

He'd never seen anything like it. Was it even real? Or was it just the mad, blistering fury throbbing in his temples that made it seem so ominous? Was he that charged on adrenaline?

No sooner had it appeared, than the livid moon vanished, leaving the night blacker than pitch again.

His lips felt dry, as did his throat. Every cell in his being screamed with the need to drain the whole damn flask. But he didn't dare take even the shortest pull. He knew he was close to some fatal edge.

Later he could drink all he wanted.

Later. When it was over. When he felt brave and strong—when he was safe again. Later he would gloat about tonight, about how smart he'd been when he'd played this hand. Later he would review his clever revenge plot, too.

Later, after drinks and sex. Lots of sex with a woman who was good at it. Thinking about sex with
her,
thinking about what she would do to him with her hands and lips, cooled his temper just enough.

“Of course I want you here,” he lied smoothly, whipping the steering wheel to the right so fast the car skidded and spit gravel. “It's just that I've got a lot on my mind.”

“Slow down.” The voice in the shadowy car was razor sharp now.

“All right.” The driver slammed on the brakes, and the car spun crazily in the gravel, throwing them toward the dash, before it stopped.

“Where the hell are we?” his passenger demanded.

“The Double Crown Ranch.”

“I don't believe you. Where's the house?”

“Over there.” He pointed. “See the light? Just through the trees.”

The juniper and oak were a solid mass of darkness. Still, a faint glow of silver had been visible seconds before.

“What are you trying to pull this time?”

He dug under the floor mat. Grabbing the big automatic, he pointed it at the other man's belly. “Shut up and get out of the car!”

“What?”

“Now!”

“I want to talk to Ryan Fortune.”

“All in good time.”

“I came here to help you. I told people where I was going and whom I was coming to see.”

“Sure you did.”

The driver was smiling and yanking out the keys and opening his own door all at the same time. The other man lunged, grabbing the hand that held the gun.

“Bastard!” The driver threw him off and catapulted out of the car onto the sharp, limestone rocks. Vaguely he was aware of cicadas singing in the trees, aware too of the warm, sultry, summer heat.

The other man sprang on top of him and wrapped his wide hands around the wrist that held the gun and squeezed. Still, somehow the driver managed to lift the automatic and smash it onto his assailant's brow.

The other man collapsed, blood pouring down his
face. His body sagged to the ground as limply as a heavy bag of feed.

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