The Cowboy's Baby Surprise. Linda Conrad

The Cowboy's Baby Surprise - Linda Conrad

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headed back to work puzzling over the strong impression that he’d met her before. His mouth seemed to know the feel of her lips when they’d never touched them, his hands the feel of her skin in places he’d never even seen. But were those real memories…or just wishful thinking?

      Carley stared through the screen door as the long, lanky cowboy strode across the yard, his boots kicking up little dust devils with every stride. She had to fight off the violent need to run after him. Her heart had wanted to beg him to stay and talk to her…for only a few minutes longer.

      The sight of the dimple in his cheek when he grinned, the lock of sandy-blond hair that fell over one eyebrow even with his hat on and those pale-blue eyes that darkened to gray when he was disturbed thrilled her. The vulnerability she found in him made her want to gather him up and hold him close until he had no choice but to remember her.

      “Our Houston’s a special fellow, don’t you think?”

      The doctor’s question disrupted Carley’s daydream. She turned to face the older woman. “Special?” Carley bit her lip. “Yes, I do. Definitely.”

      Cami picked that minute to raise her head and rub an eye with her fist.

      Doc Luisa squinted at the baby’s face. “That a new enrollee at the ranch? I don’t recognize her.”

      “This is my daughter, Cami. She’ll be living here with me.”

      “Hmm. Doesn’t resemble you much, does she?”

      Carley felt a bead of sweat forming above her lip. “She has my eyes.”

      The older woman’s deep-set, dark eyes held hers for a few seconds, then her face broke into a thousand creases as she bestowed a smile on the baby and her mother. The angle of her head told Carley that she’d come to some decision about them. But Carley didn’t care to discuss anything with Doc Luisa or anybody else just yet. First she needed to get to a phone.

      “I’d better put Cami down for a nap. We’ve both had a long day.”

      “You came in this morning? Where’d you come from?”

      Carley moved Cami from one hip to the other. “Houston. It’s a longer drive than I thought.”

      The doctor chuckled. “A long drive full of mesquite and cactus…and not much else. You from the city?”

      “I’ve been living there for a few years, but I was born in South Carolina, raised in New Orleans.”

      Luisa’s eyes sparkled with intelligence and a secret mirth all their own. “Born in Charleston, I’d wager.”

      “Well, yes.” Carley wanted to be away from this woman who was too quick—too smart. “I really need to get Cami upstairs. If you’ll excuse me?” All Carley wanted right this minute was that phone.

      Doc Luisa laid a staying hand on Carley’s arm. “Go on for now. But we will talk, young woman. I think you have quite a few things to explain.” Luisa glanced over to Cami who was about to screw her face up for a good tantrum. “I’m here at the ranch every morning to check on the kids. Only reason I’m so late today is I stopped to look in on a child with a lingering case of measles.”

      Cami’s pout turned into a whine, but the doctor still held on to Carley’s arm. “That young man means the world to me. I wouldn’t take kindly to anyone who thought to hurt him.” She narrowed her eyes and made sure Carley understood her change of topic.

      Carley understood perfectly.

      Carley climbed the carpeted stairs leading from the front hall to the employees’ bedrooms and lounge area. Where the downstairs living and sleeping rooms were typically institutional, with linoleum floors and sturdy metal or plastic furniture, the upstairs wing was tastefully decorated and homey.

      Well, okay, the walls appeared in need of a coat of paint, and the carpet had worn spots with a few frays around the edges—but everything was spotless. The warm woods of the floors and furniture were polished to a high, glossy gleam. The place reminded Carley of her grandfather’s house in New Orleans—right down to the smell of lemon oil and vanilla.

      When she carried Cami into their room, Carley noticed someone had put fresh flowers on her dresser and had made up both the double bed and the roll-away crib. Grateful for the reprieve from homemaking duties, she lowered Cami into the crib and whispered a few soothing words, hoping she’d close her eyes for a rest.

      The poor little tyke was so overtired she barely had the energy to cry. But cry she did—as if her heart were breaking.

      Carley pulled open the diaper bag and hauled out a change of clothes, diapers and a half-size baby bottle. She changed Cami and went into the bathroom to fill the bottle with water. When she returned, Carley nearly stumbled over the open bag. She heard a clink and remembered that she’d crammed her framed photograph of Witt into the side pocket.

      Of course! No wonder Cami seemed to recognize the man. Carley had kept his picture on her dresser for all these months. Smart kid. Houston Smith was no stranger to her. In fact, Carley had told her over and over that he was her daddy. No doubt Cami was brokenhearted because the man she thought of as “daddy” had not recognized her.

      Carley gave Cami the bottle of water and her favorite stuffed toy, a pink crayfish that Carley’s mother had given her. Before long, sleep closed the baby’s eyes and quieted her sobs.

      Carley knew she’d better not keep Witt’s picture in plain sight here at the ranch, so she buried it inside one of her suitcases for storage. Then she reached for the mobile phone she’d also stuffed in the pocket of the diaper bag.

      Slightly warm in the closed room, Carley pulled open the window, then punched in the many numbers necessary to reach Reid Sorrels. A hot, stiff breeze blasted her as it came from off the range, and she took a deep breath as Reid answered her call.

      Before saying hello, he spat the question at her. “Is it Davidson?”

      “You knew all the time it was. But, yes, I can confirm he’s Witt.” She gave her boss a pithy statement of what she’d found, then cut to what she needed from him.

      “Run complete backgrounds on a local pediatrician, Dr. Luisa Monsebais, and on the home’s administrator, Gabriel Diaz. See if you can get hard copies to me without anyone knowing.”

      “They’ll arrive in the local field office no later than tomorrow. Someone will get them to you on the ranch.” Reid fell silent for a minute. “He didn’t recognize you at all?”

      “Not that I could tell. It’s so strange here, Reid. Otherworldly. And what with Witt being this Houston Smith person, I feel cut off and alone.”

      “Try plugging your laptop into the Bureau’s satellite link. Maybe you’ll be in range there. And check in with me twice a day by phone.”

      Carley smiled grimly at Reid’s no-nonsense reply, but she wasn’t through with her requests. “Contact a Dr. William Fields at the Cannon Neurological Institute in Chicago and arrange for a conference call today. Both of us need to pick his brain on this one.” She stared absently out the open window at the scruffy live oaks and prickly ebony trees. “Call me back when you’ve reached him. I’ll wait here.”

      Carley cut the connection and cradled the instrument against her breast. Reid had bent the rules for Witt. By all rights, he should have picked Witt up and carted him off in custody to interrogation the first moment Manny had ID’d him. But Reid waited for her report—and now he’d wait a little longer.

      Witt had been one of the best agents on the task force. His loss set the operation back years, and his unexplained disappearance caused a black mark against Reid. Not to mention the fact that Reid had unfortunately lost her, in a way, to the same calamity: Carley had spent months searching fruitlessly for word of Witt among the lowlife gathering spots and bars near Houston where they’d been investigating the kidnapping ring. She’d researched Witt’s background, even visiting the little town in West Texas where he’d grown

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