The Cowboy's Baby Surprise. Linda Conrad

The Cowboy's Baby Surprise - Linda Conrad

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the home administrator, Gabe welcomed her and showed her through the main house.

      She’d spent six hours of the last day just driving to this godforsaken place. Carley had checked it out on the map and had the auto club trace the directions in yellow marker. Nevertheless, many times on the trip she’d been convinced she’d gotten lost. No one could live this far out of the way or survive with all this bleak landscape.

      Perfectly civilized, my foot.

      Carley spent most of the trying, six-hour drive daydreaming about the last time she’d seen Witt. About how his blond hair and boy-next-door good looks made him the perfect undercover agent. Criminals never suspected the steely danger lurking within him. But the man also had a tender side, as she knew only too well. Carley nearly drove herself and Cami off the road remembering his gentle caresses and his seductive kisses.

      With Cami buckled securely in her car seat, they’d gone for several hours without so much as seeing a gas station. Every couple of hours Carley had pulled off the road to give Cami a drink or change her diaper. Finally the car had crested a small incline, and she’d been relieved to see the outskirts of a real city.

      The city of McAllen, located on the Texas-Mexico border at a bend in the Rio Grande, was home to over a hundred thousand people. In every direction, Carley saw shopping, schools, churches. Everything looked new and clean and prosperous, as the city sprang out of the open range to the north. Unfortunately, the map to the foster home routed her the west, away from this sparkling little city, and into a dangerous looking and desolate countryside.

      She’d followed the road along the Rio Grande until she’d finally found the turnoff to the children’s home and ranch. Her car had bumped down a pitted, caliche roadway past what appeared to be miles of nothing but cactus and cows.

      The end of the road had brought them to a handful of buildings and barns. She’d seen an imposing-looking two-story house surrounded by trees, dirt and a wide black-topped parking lot. The flapping wood sign on an old post had said, Casa de Valle. “House in the Valley,” their temporary new home.

      “I need to speak to one of the counselors,” Preacher Gabe said, bringing her back to the present. “Look around for yourself after you settle Cami into the day room. The older children watch over the babies and toddlers there. They’re real good with the babies. You’ll be impressed.”

      Carley handed Cami off to a sweet-looking young girl and dumped their luggage in the upstairs room assigned to them. She didn’t even bother to change clothes before heading outside. With no earthly idea of where to begin looking for a man on a ranch, she was determined to track down this person who was supposed to be Witt—that very afternoon.

      At first Carley had been shocked by Reid’s idea of amnesia. But she quickly adjusted and readied herself for any contingency before packing and making the long drive. Besides her personal gear and the various Bureau-issued weapons and equipment, she’d armed herself with information. She remembered a few things about amnesia from school, but if this was indeed Witt, and he was suffering from memory loss, she intended to help in any way she could.

      She’d downloaded every scrap of information from the Internet and called on one of her former professors. What she’d found didn’t give her much hope. Most amnesia victims either recovered their memories within a few weeks or, at most, a couple of months—or they never did. The thought of finding Witt after all this time, only to never really get him back, preyed on her mind.

      “Maybe the shock of seeing you will jolt his memory,” her professor had said. Oh please. If there is a God, it will be that simple.

      The other standard piece of advice was not to force things—to let the memories return on their own. “Give him time. Losing your entire existence can be a very frightening proposition.”

      Easy for a distant professor to say, Carley thought. Much harder to accomplish when it was someone you loved who’d totally forgotten you.

      When she stepped outside into the sun, not much appeared to be happening on this hot afternoon in the yard between the back door of the huge main house and the various outbuildings within walking distance. Carley wondered if everyone took a siesta after lunch in this part of the world.

      “Excuse me, ma’am, you looking for something?” A cowboy in jeans, a plaid shirt and straw hat appeared out of the shadows and ambled toward her from one of the big, barn-like structures.

      “Uh…yes. I’m looking for someone.”

      “And who would that be? You don’t look like you’d be knowing anybody in these parts…if you don’t mind me saying so, ma’am.”

      Carley looked down at herself. Still dressed in the wool-blend pants suit and short heels she’d worn for the trip, she guessed she probably didn’t look much like she belonged in a barnyard. Now why hadn’t she taken a minute to change into her jeans?

      Before doing anything about that mistake, she needed to find a way out of her more immediate problem. Carley couldn’t remember what name Reid had said Witt was using. Who the heck should she say she was looking for?

      Suddenly she thought of another name she did remember. “Do you know the vet’s assistant, Manny…somebody?”

      The cowboy eyed her warily. “Yes’um. He’s down to the stud barn just now. Would you like me to fetch him for you?”

      The situation was getting worse and worse. Why hadn’t she thought this through before she’d jumped into action? How would she find Witt when she had no idea what name he used?

      “I…” she stammered.

      “¿Qué paso, amigo? Something wrong?”

      Carley spun in the direction of the familiar voice coming from behind her. She thought she’d armed herself with knowledge. But nothing could have prepared her for the sight of the man who’d haunted her dreams day and night, as he sauntered across the dirt in their direction.

      “Thank God…” Her knees buckled and the next thing she knew Witt had her in his arms, holding her against his body for support.

      She’d given up on ever feeling Witt’s arms around her again. Months ago Carley had truly lost all hope. And now that she could feel his muscles rippling under her grip, could smell his own beloved musky scent as he held her near, the hope flared.

      Witt stared down at her in his arms as if he was holding a complete stranger. The flame of hope quickly died again.

      “Feeling all right, ma’am? You delirious or dehydrated, maybe? Being out here in the sun without a hat isn’t too smart.” He set her unsteadily on her feet and backed away—leaving one hand on her elbow for support. “How about if I take you back to the main house? Maybe a glass of water will help?”

      Her parched body desperately needed to drink in the sight of him. She’d been thirsty for his embrace for far too long.

      Reality splashed her like a cold shower. Nothing would help. Witt’s first sight of her had not stirred any memories—in him.

      Unfortunately, the sight of him brought stunning images crashing in on Carley. She fought the tantalizing memory of his kiss, so full of irresistible passion and erotic hunger. Her head swam with remembering his touch on her skin—the touch that could heat the blood in her veins and send shivers dancing down her spine. A fierce craving to draw them both into the inner fire nearly brought her to her knees for the second time since getting an initial glimpse of him after all these months.

      “You need my help, Houston?” The ranch hand’s question broke into her daydream.

      Witt turned to the other man but moved his steadying hand to Carley’s shoulder. “Naw. You go on back to work, pal. I think I can handle things here.”

      Witt eyed her with a sideways glance. “I can handle you, can’t I, little lady?” He bent to whisper in her ear and the feel of his warm breath on her cheek suddenly seemed comforting.

      For one fleeting moment Carley wondered if Witt could

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