Heart Of The Eagle. Lindsay McKenna
come barreling in here and take over. I don’t think your brother would like to get the law entangled in the daily running of his ranch. Right now, there’s calving and moving the herds to higher country for the summer. Do you want a bunch of three-piece-suited dudes from D.C. overrunning this place? I know they’ll botch the capture of the poachers because they’re unfamiliar with the terrain and methods that it will take to capture them. And they’ll also make a mess of things here.”
Dal glared at him, rubbing her temples with her fingers. “What are you talking about?”
“If you don’t agree to help me, they’re going to set up operations here at the Triple K. I persuaded the inspector to let me take on the task and see if I could get you to work with us. That way, your brother can go about his business of running his ranch and we’ll stay out from underfoot.”
“Either way, you’ll be here,” Dal said bitterly, crossing her arms.
Jim felt his heart wrench. The kind, soft-spoken Dal Kincaid he had seen a short while ago was gone. And he had caused the change. Now, she was defensive and hurting. Whatever trust he had briefly established with her was destroyed. “It’s better than the alternative, doctor.”
She wanted to scream. She wanted to sob. Oh, God! Jack, again. The man whom she had loved at one time and who had learned to love money more than her or their marriage. He had known how to manipulate her emotions until she had felt herself shredded by his razor-blade tactics. Dal knew she had to get hold of herself. She had to think clearly. Fairly. Lifting her head, she looked over at Jim Tremain.
“It’s stuffy in here. I want to go outside.”
“All right. Let’s go.”
The April sun was weak but welcome on her face as they crossed the muddy yard between the horse and cow barns. Dal led Jim to a pipe-fenced paddock and placed both elbows on the pipe. The breeze was inconstant, occasionally lifting strands of her hair across her jacketed shoulders. For no identifiable reason, Dal felt an island of momentary peace when Jim Tremain hitched up his foot onto the lowest pipe of the fence. Their elbows almost touched.
“I love coming out here,” she confided softly. The paddock contained four brood mares and their newborn foals.
Jim glanced at her. “The babies?”
She nodded, a tremulous smile lifting the corners of her mouth. “The babies,” she agreed. “When Rafe took over the operation of the Triple K eight years ago, he replaced the quarter horses with Arabians. They’re smaller, but they have more endurance and are as tough as the mustangs that cross our land.”
“They’re like you, then, doctor.”
Dal turned, perplexed by the intimate tone of his voice. She trembled beneath the smile that reached his clear brown eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re as beautiful as they are and you have an inner core of endurance that will see you through.”
She laughed, but it was a hollow sound filled with pain. “Oh? And just where did you gain such insight, Mr. Tremain?”
His smile broadened as he held her confused gaze. “My mother. She was a full-blooded Navaho. She was the one who taught me to listen to my heart and not my head. Call it a sixth sense. I just feel that when the going gets rough, you’re there with commensurate strength to survive and become stronger because of the experience.”
Warmth flowed through Dal, dissolving the icy cold fist in the pit of her stomach. She stood beneath Jim’s gentle inspection, lost in the smoldering gold of his eyes, seeing much and unable to decipher all that he said with them. Dal felt breathless and tore her gaze from his, staring at the brood mares instead.
“Right now, Jim,” she said in a whisper, “I’m at the end of my rope emotionally. I won’t bore you with the travesty of my marriage to Jack Gordon. The past two years of hell have worn me down. I once thought I had a backbone of steel like the rest of the Kincaids, but I don’t. Not anymore. I’m raw. I can’t take too much emotionally or I’ll crack and I know it.”
She removed her elbows from the pipe and stood, hands buried deep in the pockets of her jacket as she looked up at him. The brim of his hat shaded his eyes and hid his reaction to her admission. “That’s why I’m here at the family ranch, Jim. I’m trying to patch myself together so I can go back out in the world and live again.”
Jim raised his hand, taking a strand of hair from her cheek and easing it behind her delicate ear. His voice was thick with emotion when he finally spoke. “If I told you I’d take care of you through this problem we’ve got with Gordon, would you believe me?”
Hot scalding tears pricked the backs of Dal’s eyes as she stood looking up at Jim. His image blurred and she turned away, walking a few paces, her back to him.
Jim stared at her back, noting the way her shoulders were tensed and drawn up. He had watched her vulnerable eyes darken with a torture known only to herself and had seen her full, generous mouth draw into a line of anguish. What had happened in her marriage to tear her apart like this? Swallowing hard, he waited, his senses cautioning him that if he were to approach her too soon or try in some way to comfort her, she would turn on him. Trust, his senses screamed at him; she trusts no one. No man. He searched his memory for facts regarding Jack Gordon: he was an entrepreneur in the business of birds, capturing rare or colorful species from jungles around the world and selling them to zoos or private patrons. In those six years of marriage, had Gordon used Dal to sharpen his own education and utilized her knowledge to enhance his lucrative, international business?
Dal struggled to force down the lid on the caldrons of emotion that Jim Tremain had torn lose with his one touch. He had shaken her to the core. He wanted to use her just as Jack had at the end of their once happy marriage. Jim was even more dangerous because he knew how to read her and get what he wanted. Jack’s methods were always obvious once he had allowed material goods and stature become the center of importance to him. Jim knew that a simple gesture, such as placing a strand of hair behind her ear, would catch her off guard and place her in a more vulnerable position. Anger warred with a heart that said: he did it out of care, not because he wanted to use you. Pressing her fingers to her temples, Dal shut her eyes tightly for a moment, willing all her anger, frustration and pain back into a tightly lidded place in her heart.
She turned, her shoulders sagging as she stared at Jim. As much as she tried, Dal could not find one shred of selfishness in his face. If anything, she was screamingly aware of the tender light that burned in his golden eyes, the laugh lines at their corners and the way his mouth was pursed. Oh God, no! she cried inwardly. She had learned to take a secondary role to Jack’s aims. But she had no defense against a man who showed her kindness. It’s all a sham, her mind screamed. He wants something from you, just like Jack did. Only he’s going to take it from you a different way. Jack wanted your knowledge. Jim wants the same thing.
Dal had not realized that two paths of tears had streaked down her cheeks as she stood staring at him. It was only when she saw his eyes darken and his mouth part in protest that she became aware of why he was reacting. Quickly wiping the telltale signs away, Dal lifted her head, her azure eyes darkened with confusion.
“No, I wouldn’t believe that you or anyone could protect me from Jack. Not now. Not ever,” she forced out in a low, quavering tone.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
Dal looked blindly toward the paddock, unable to hold his understanding gaze. Jim was dangerous to her and she wanted to run. Run and hide. “I told you, I’m in no shape to help anyone. Not even myself.”
Jim moved closer, but not close enough to frighten her into fleeing. She reminded him vividly of a hunted deer standing tautly before him, an almost imperceptible quiver surrounding her. “My mother always told me tears were healing. I see nothing wrong with them.”