Authors: Tina Leonard
She whispered, “Falcon...” against his neck, and he went spinning over the edge, into the hot heaven that was Taylor.
“So, did Falcon yell at you? Much?”
Ash’s blue eyes were huge in her sun-warmed face, worried as she was about her big brother’s overprotective fit yesterday. Taylor kept walking down the sidewalk on the main drag in Diablo, carrying her sack of groceries, everything right in her world. “He yelled, sort of. Not as much as you’d imagine. In fact, Falcon’s really more of a lover than a fighter.”
Ash tagged along beside her. “You don’t know Falcon. He’s totally a fighter. In fact, of all of us, he’s a little bit crazy, if you know what I mean. I was worried about you.”
“Why? He’s a kitten.”
Ash stopped in her tracks for a moment, then caught up again. “Never let Falcon hear you say that. He sees himself more as a stealthy tiger. In fact, his spirit aura is—”
“Ash, quit worrying.” Taylor went into Banger’s and set the groceries on the counter for Jillian. “How is Xav?”
“He’s fine. They did a surgery to take out the bullet. He wouldn’t take any pain meds. Said he had to live up to the Callahans, or something stupid like that. One of us hypnotized him so he wouldn’t feel pain, but I’m not saying who, so don’t ask. He’s pretty happy now, except he wants out of the hospital yesterday.” Ash’s face glowed as she bragged on Xav. “I’m crazy about him.”
“I know. He knows.” Taylor smiled.
“You think that’s a bad thing?” Ash looked anxious.
“Not in his case. He’s running from himself, not you, is my guess.”
Ash raised a brow. “You sound like a Callahan. Philosophical.”
“I don’t quite ladle around all the balone—I mean, thank you.” She smiled at Ashlyn. “I’ll take that as high praise. What did you do with the casing?”
“Oh. I gave that to Sheriff Cartwright. Then I had to tell my brothers I’d found it.” She sighed. “Of course, you found it, but I covered for you. Falcon was annoyed enough.”
“Whatever. Don’t act like you’re grateful, because I know you weren’t really worried about Falcon’s temper.”
Taylor smiled. “Actually he seems like a reasonable individual.”
Ash shook her head. “You’ll have to learn the hard way. I’ve got to go. Thanks for going with me yesterday.”
“It was fun.”
“Not really,” Ash said. “I’m sorry I got you yelled at.”
“I’m just glad everything turned out for the best.”
Ash sniffed. “You know, Taylor, Jillian is right.”
It was a little too late if Ashlyn was going to warn her off Falcon again. “What have you got against your brother?”
“Nothing,” she said hastily. “He’s a great guy. It’s just you’ve been raised gently, kind of the town princess, you know? And Falcon’s more the badass from nowhere. I don’t see how it works.”
“You’re a rebel, and you’re running after Xav, who’s—”
“Become a very good rebel.” Ash beamed. “They say that there was a time when all he lifted were corporate agreements, and he never saw more than ten minutes of daylight at a time. I’m really proud of him.”
“Okay. So you’re a match. Don’t worry about me and Falcon. As you say, he’s got a heart of stone, and I’ve got a date tonight. No worries.”
“Really?” Ash’s nose wrinkled.
“Yes,” Taylor said, sighing. “Some suit from some big corporation Fiona knows is flying in tonight.”
“Suits are dangerous,” Ash said. “Suits can
Well, Xav had, but that wasn’t true of all suits. “You said I should be looking for something other than your brother. Don’t try to turn me away from my destiny.”
“Destiny?” Ash backed away. “Oh, no. Messing with it is unwise. It’s bad juju. People don’t understand that. They always want to out-think their intended future. It leads to all kinds of heartache. Trust me, I know whereof I speak. I tell people I don’t believe in destiny, but one should never tempt it. I try not to tempt it by ignoring it.”
Taylor smiled. “Bye, Ash.”
Ashlyn shot out the door, and Taylor went home to dress, not at all happy about her big date.
Taylor had a problem. She wasn’t interested in meeting Fiona’s Prince Charming in a suit. Because she was certain she’d already met her destiny—in the arms of a big, overbearing cowboy who just happened to melt her with sweet kisses and his oh-so-obvious need to be tamed.
* * *
, she has another date?” Falcon glowered at his sister. “Taylor can’t have a date, she and I just made—” He stopped himself from saying
made mind-blowing love in the basement,
and lowered a frown on his sister instead.
Ash didn’t seem impressed.
“I heard it from her own lips. She’s going out tonight with a corporate suit Fiona dug up for her. You’re going to have to talk to the redoubtable aunt to find out more. All I know is that the suit is supposedly taking Taylor to a restaurant in Tempest, which is only a few minutes away, really, if you’re driving a very fast truck. And as I recall, we have oodles of family in Tempest, at Dark Diablo ranch, don’t we?”
“Fiona’s supposed to be on my side.” Falcon slumped onto a kitchen bar stool in the main house.
“Good luck with that.” Ash swiped a cookie off the platter in the center of the counter and munched happily. “No one’s ever certain what side our aunt is on. She’s sort of a wild card, if you think about it. You can draw her, but once you’ve got her in your hand, she could go either way. Very dicey, as aunts go.”
“I just don’t see how Taylor can have a date.” Falcon shook his head. The woman had literally romanced his socks off yesterday. She’d been a fireball in his arms, wrapping her legs around him, fiercely whispering his name with little whimpers of delight.... He broke off the memories he’d been savoring all day.
“Reality is harsh at times,” Ash said brightly. “Anyway, you cooked your own goose, brother, gravy and all. You’re the one who graciously agreed that you wouldn’t press your suit until December, while Jillian and Fiona found any number of Prince Charmings to win her away. Talk about giving away the prize. Overconfident much, brother?”
“I was trying to be a gentleman,” Falcon growled. “I was trying to live within the rules. I didn’t count on my aunt sandbagging me.”
“Well,” Ash said, smiling with obvious glee, “you both agreed to the rules, so put your tiny whiney fiddle away. I’m off to see my adorable cowboy. They think they’re going to send Xav home tomorrow, so I only have one more day to captivate him while he’s a...captive audience.”
She was far too pleased with herself. Falcon sighed. “Give me some advice I can use here. I know very little about the female species. I really thought Taylor dug me just a bit.”
“Why?” Ash cocked her head. “Because you yelled at her for going into the canyons with me? Because you treat her like she’s on a pedestal, so everyone else will, too, thus recognizing her untouchableness?” Ash gave him a sisterly pop on the arm. “You’ll figure it out, bro. Slowly, but you will. I’ve given you all the help I can, but now it’s visiting hours. Bye!” She went off, humming.
Sometimes Ash was the world’s most annoying little sister. Falcon was positive very few brothers had a sister who deviled them to the extent that she did. Sometimes he was certain she was setting him up for a fall. Other times she was an angel, reaching out a hand to help him up.
The females in his life were driving him mad.
Then it hit him hard exactly what Ash had given him.
* * *
instead of our lazy brother?” Dante asked Tighe, as they sat in the dark booth in the comfortably dark restaurant in Tempest, New Mexico. He was speaking only half in jest about Falcon, who’d sent them on this spy mission. “Keeping an eye on Taylor is
job. So once again, why are we—”
“Because,” Tighe said, eagerly attacking the bowl of bread the curvy waitress put before them, “he’s our brother. And Falcon’s been rather unmanned by his emotions for Taylor, if you hadn’t noticed, which would be impossible not to notice, because just about everybody in Diablo is talking about our much-decorated brother, who could handle anything the military threw at him, completely cratering under the sweet, burning torch he’s carrying for Taylor.”
“You almost have the loquacious style and wit of a philosopher of yore,” Dante said, annoyed, “except you didn’t really answer my question. Why us?”
“Simple, Watson. We’re spies.” Tighe grinned. “As your twin, I don’t hesitate to say that I’m the better spy, naturally. I was first from the womb, I was first in the sack races in first grade, I also beat you at—”
Dante held up a hand. “Sweetheart, can you get me another Shiner? And if you want to toss some aspirin on the side, that’d be real helpful, darling. My brothers are trying to drive a stake through my skull.”
The waitress gave him a smile that lit up the room. Dante smiled back, but not with as much wolfish warmth as he might have if he didn’t have his own little crush going. He was in as good a position as Falcon, unrequited love and all that, but not near to beer-weeping, which sometimes he thought Falcon was getting close to, if he didn’t stop being such a drama dude.
Dante glanced over at Taylor and her date. “I get why Falcon digs her so much. Taylor’s smarter than he is. She’s better looking than him, too. And she’s unattainable.”
“The shiny object,” Tighe said cheerfully, almost amused by their brother’s emotional pain. “The Holy Grail that calls to a man, whispering of soft, perfumed nights and heaven heretofore undiscovered.”
“Great gravy,” Dante muttered. “Why was I saddled in the zygote with you?”
“I’ve always wondered about that vanishing-twin thing. I think, why couldn’t my twin have disappeared into thin air?” Tighe popped the last bite of his bread into his mouth with satisfaction. “Which is probably why Mom said I kicked you all the time. I was trying to kick you out of the womb. That’s the reason I was born first—I was trying to escape your ham-headedness. Now, as for Taylor, all you need to know about our dating darling over there is that our brother is head over heels in love with her. We can help him out...or not.”
Dante lowered his brows. “What do you mean?” He gobbled the ibuprofen and the beer the precious little waitress set on the table. “We’re here. We’re helping.”
“Does us no good whatsoever if Falcon should catch said shiny object,” Tighe pointed out, jerking his head toward Taylor.
Dante felt his jaw become slightly unhinged. “You’re not suggesting that we sabotage our brother?”
Tighe shrugged. “You want that land or not?”
“I don’t know.” Dante sighed with pleasure as a huge steak was set in front of him. There were steaming mashed potatoes with a generous dollop of butter, a brightly colored vegetable mix, and if Tighe would quit talking, he’d be the happiest man on the planet. “I wasn’t just threatening about hitting the rodeo circuit with you.”
“Me, either. That doesn’t mean we’re giving up the race for the land. It just means we don’t tie ourselves to the future of Rancho Diablo.”
Dante’s fork hung over his steak. “I’m going to regret this, but you’re speaking a bit of family treason, bro.”
“Rancho Diablo is not our home,” Tighe pointed out. “What’s she doing right now?”
Dante glanced back over at Taylor. “Uh, the city dude is kissing her fingers, like he’s French or something. Taylor isn’t smiling. She looks bored.”
“Well, finger kissing is boring.” Tighe dug into the huge pile of lasagna on his plate. “Mmm, at least we’re getting great eats on our brother’s nickel.”
“You’re not suggesting that we turn our backs on our cousins? Our family?”
“Sure.” Tighe shrugged. “We’ve been guarding Aunt Fiona and Rancho Diablo for over a year. We’ve done our family duty. If we’re going to take a shot at our dream, we need to get to it. We’re not getting any younger, and bulls are not easy on an old man’s body. And I don’t particularly want to get shot up like Xav Phillips over a battle that isn’t ours.”
Dante took another quick peek back at Taylor. She’d pulled her hand away from her suitor, who was obviously trying to figure out how to get her into bed, and thought if he started slowly with fingers, he might work up to more. As if that ever worked. Dante snorted to himself.
Loser. With moves like that, it would take him six months to get a girl in the sack.
Then again, Dante wasn’t having much luck with the woman he had his eyes on. When Kendall Phillips had returned to set her cap for Sloan, she’d brought a deluxe model of female hotness with her—two bodyguards to protect Kendall’s darling twin newborns. All so Kendall could be close to Sloan, who was bent and determined that the way to win his woman was to send her and his children to another state. Kendall had outsmarted Sloan with the sexy, tough bodyguards—and Dante and Tighe had promptly felt their hearts, their collective practical reasoning and their vaunted bachelorhood status itch to go the way of the dodo. Gone.
But the bodyguards, Ana and River, hadn’t given them the time of day.
I’m not doing any better than City over there. I didn’t even get to kiss Ana’s fingers—although to be fair, I would have started with her toes and worked my way up.
He sighed, bit into his steak. “I almost get your premise. You’re working on two. You’re saying that this isn’t our fight, so we’re not obligated. And you’re also positing that we don’t do our job tonight, which is keeping an eye on our brother’s crush.” Dante poked his fork in the air. “I’m not entirely shocked by your disloyalty and your competitiveness, because sometimes your competitive side overwhelms your good sense, but you’re forgetting a few things.”
“Tell me where I’m wrong,” Tighe said, inhaling his lasagna. “Tell me you haven’t chafed a bit under our grandfather’s grip on our life.”
Dante glared. “I do not chafe. I serve.”
“So? What’s it getting you?”
“It’s not supposed to get any of us anything. Let me tell you what the frogs in this theoretical pond of yours are. One, we don’t turn our back on family. Ever. It pains me that I shared a zygote with you if you’re being this disloyal. Just because you want to leave and haven’t quite talked me into it doesn’t mean you’re getting close.” He glared at his brother. “Second, even if I wanted to tell Running Bear that I was handing in my family membership—because that’s what we’d be doing—I could never turn my back on Fiona and Burke. Nor my cousins, either, but particularly the older folk.” He got sad just thinking about it. Fiona needed them. She thought she could handle everything herself, but Fiona was no spring chicken.