The Legend

Read the Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

 

Northern outskirts of Austin

Two Dallas Area Men Charged with Identity Theft

Callie stood on the sidewalk in the warm sun with a grocery bag in each hand, staring at the headline of the newspaper with her heart thumping in dread. She didn’t need to read the story to know that it was about her family.

There wasn’t a person in the state of Texas who didn’t know who the Reeds were. And it sickened her.

No matter how much distance—physically, mentally, and emotionally—she put between her and her family, they still managed to affect her life.

Numb, she turned and continued on her way. She knew she needed to be alert and attempt to spot those who might be watching her, but she couldn’t generate the energy.

She caught sight of Mercy, her pride and joy. As she reached the red Dodge Challenger, she clicked the key fob and released the trunk latch. She set the bags inside and closed the trunk, recalling how just a few hours earlier, she’d wished to put a certain someone inside it.

Wyatt Loughman.

The infuriating man knew exactly how to exasperate her, even without words. And he never seemed to get riled up about anything. Which only pissed her off more.

She adjusted her sunglasses as she made her way to the driver’s side and unlocked the door. As she opened it, she heard her name. Instinct made her turn her head—only to have a feeling of alarm envelop her.

“Lookin’ good, cuz.”

With her stomach knotted in anger and revulsion, she looked into the blue eyes of Melvin Reed. Women stared at the handsome face and nice body wearing the latest designer fashion, unaware that the man’s soul had been sold to the Devil long ago.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded.

His smile widened as he sauntered up to her, his eyes squinted against the blinding sun. He let his fingers trail along the car, nodding in appreciation at the vehicle. “No hello or nothin’? That’s not very nice.”

“I’m not nice. What are you doing here?” she repeated.

“If you checked in with the family once in a while, you’d know.”

It had been over three years since she’d last spoken with the family. And she wasn’t in a hurry to change that. “I’m busy.”

“Ah, yes,” he said and leaned back against Mercy.

Her hackles immediately rose, and she inwardly cringed at the thought that he might be scratching her baby. However, it was the bitterness and hatred she heard in his tone that made her fingers itch to grasp the handle of the knife tucked up her sleeve.

“So, you’re still working for the Loughmans.” Melvin laughed and hooked a thumb in a belt loop of his jeans. “How is ranching these days?”

She was grateful that her family didn’t know her job had gone from ranching to being a part of the Black Ops group—Whitehorse—set up by Orrin Loughman.

Callie tightened her fingers around her keys. “It’s good.”

“You’re a long way from home, cuz.”

The threat was there in his eyes—and his voice. A part of her wished he’d try something so she could take him down. But causing a scene in the middle of town wasn’t part of the strategy she and Wyatt had.

Though, to be honest, they didn’t have much of a plan.

Still, there was a bigger picture. And it didn’t involve settling petty differences between her and her family of criminals.

Not now, at least.

That day would come. She could only run so far before she had to face her relatives and put her foot down once and for all.

She smiled, showing Melvin she didn’t scare easily. “So are you. Cuz.”

Without another word, Callie got into the car and drove away. She looked into the rearview mirror to find Melvin watching her. His arrival felt like an omen that things were about to come crashing down around her.

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t shake off the unease at Melvin’s appearance. At least the drive to the remote house was uneventful. However, her nerves were strung tight by the time she parked the car and turned off the engine.

She unloaded the groceries and put them away. Then she walked out the back of the house and stood in the September sun on the porch, looking out over the expansive land. It didn’t take her long to spot Wyatt doing his check of the perimeter.

His strides were long, confidence pouring off him. The wind ruffled his dark brown hair that fell to his chin. He ran a hand through it, shoving the front strands to the side as he knelt on one knee to inspect something. It gave her a great view of his hard jawline and the shadow of a beard.

When he stood and continued on, her heart skipped a beat as she took in his long legs, narrow hips, and chest that widened into a V.

The clothes couldn’t hide the corded muscles beneath, but that’s not what made people take notice of him. It was the intense and powerful aura that surrounded him.

Though he could be harsh—and oftentimes cruel—Wyatt Loughman never sugarcoated anything.

As she knew from personal experience.

She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the way he moved with catlike precision and care. She still remembered the first time she’d seen him. It was a day that had changed her life—and he didn’t even know it.

As a teenager, she’d sought employment at the Loughman Ranch. It had taken her almost a week to convince Orrin that she could do the work and not let him down.

Sadly, the notoriety of her family had already started to shape her life. Orrin had reluctantly agreed, but she’d seen the look in his eyes. He didn’t think she could keep her word.

What they didn’t know, was that she’d decided she wasn’t going to go into the family business. Her parents were pushing her hard, and she feared that despite her wishes, her kin would win.

The Loughmans were the best family around. Even then, she knew of the brothers, as everyone did, but she’d never spoken to them. And no one had anything bad to say about the family—as individuals or a whole. The fact that they owned a ranch was a plus since she’d always loved horses. All that combined to make them a good steppingstone to cutting ties with her relatives.

The next day, Callie had shown up at the ranch. Orrin put her to work immediately. She’d been ecstatic to be doing something that felt right to her soul, her body, and her morality.

It was as she’d checked the fences that she had her first real look at Wyatt. Nearly fifteen years later, she could still recall every detail of that moment.

How the summer sun had baked her, how the sky had been devoid of clouds, how the sweat had trickled down Wyatt’s bare chest as he raised the ax.

She could still hear the thump of the blade as it fell, and the crack of the wood splitting. Her mouth had gone dry as she gazed at the perfection of his rippling sinew.

Years of working on the ranch had honed his muscles, defining each and every one. His dark hair had been short then and soaked from sweat and the water he’d poured over his head.

That was the first time she’d truly noticed—and wanted—a man.

There was nothing soft about Wyatt. His mother’s murder had turned him into a loner whose lips rarely lifted in a smile. But that hadn’t dissuaded her.

In fact, it had made her want him all the more.

Callie sighed. The years had strengthened Wyatt’s muscles even more and smoothed some of the rough edges. But he was still the same cynical man as before.

Yet, there had been a brief period where things were different. A time when hope had shone so brightly that it blinded her.

But when the sun leaves, the darkness consumes everything. So it had been with her. She hadn’t allowed herself to wallow in her grief long. Instead, it turned to anger that burned strong enough to chase away the shadows.

It still blazed.

Never in all her life had she imagined she would see Wyatt again. He’d sworn never to return to the ranch. But fate had a way of ignoring such things.

The job Orrin had taken to steal a Russian bioweapon, Ragnarok, had altered several lives. All three Loughman brothers were pulled from missions and sent back to Texas to find their dad.

Callie had had no choice but to work with Wyatt in an attempt to locate and save the man who had become like a father to her. Orrin had given her the strength to turn away from her family once and for all.

She wouldn’t let him down now.

If that meant she had to spend time alone with the pigheaded asshat, Wyatt, then she would suck it up. For Orrin.

Here Orrin was, with three strong sons, all of which had gone into different branches of the military to become living legends. Yet they blamed Orrin for their mother’s death, refusing to return home.

They had no idea how much Orrin loved or missed them. They didn’t know he had friends send him reports and pictures of his sons so he could remain in their lives in some way.

They didn’t see his melancholy and unshed tears on Thanksgiving or Christmas when his calls and texts went unanswered.

She would’ve done anything to have a dad like Orrin, instead of one who tried to persuade her to commit fraud. None of the Loughman boys realized what an amazing man they had as a father.

Orrin’s life being put in jeopardy brought them all together again. It was no surprise that Wyatt’s thinking hadn’t changed about Orrin. However, Owen’s and Cullen’s had.

It made her long to hit Wyatt over the head and toss him in her trunk.

“Dumbass,” she murmured.

Wyatt’s head swung to her as if he’d heard her from two hundred yards away. She was caught in his deep gold eyes that seemed to smolder with a fire of anger and skepticism. His skin, darkened by the sun, accentuated those amazing eyes.

The dark shadow of a beard highlighted his hollowed cheeks and firm jawline. She knew how soft and sensual his wide lips could feel against her skin.

A shiver went down her spine as she remembered rapture-filled nights in his arms. Of his lips along her neck while he whispered—in detail—how he planned to bring her pleasure.

She shook off the past as he made his way to the porch. He stopped before her, his eyes framed by thick, black lashes focused on her face. “What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ve never been a good liar.” He looked her up and down. “Your shoulders are hunched, which means you’re stressed. Tell me what happened.”

How she hated that he knew her so well. She couldn’t say the same. He’d been gone, and he kept everything hidden and held tightly in check. The walls he’d erected were so tall and thick that no one could get through them.

She shrugged and looked away, only to have her gaze drawn back to his face. If she didn’t tell him now, he’d find out anyway. It was better if it came from her. “My cousin is in town.”

“Which one?” he asked.

Callie wasn’t fooled by his soft tone. “Melvin.”

A muscle ticked along his jaw. “Did he say anything to you?”

“He approached me, wanting to know what I was doing in Austin. If he’s in town, that means my family is expanding their reach.”

“They’ve been doing that for some time.”

For the second time that day, she was in shock. How the hell would Wyatt know what her family was up to? “What?”

“Their business reaches as far south as Galveston and as far west as El Paso.”

Was he joking? No, Wyatt didn’t kid about anything. She was shocked and dazed at the news. “How do you know that?”

“I made a point of knowing. Why didn’t you?”

“I wanted to forget them.” Perhaps that had been the wrong thing to do since there was obviously much her family had done over the past decade.

He was silent for a moment. “You needn’t worry about your family. They won’t bother you.”

“That’s not the impression I got from Melvin. Not that you need to concern yourself. I can handle them.”

“They won’t bother you,” he repeated before walking past her and into the house.

Now just what the hell did that mean? And why was he so sure?

 

Copyright © 2017 by Donna Grant.