Adam's mission is to investigate the theft of an Aztec statue, but he falls for a suspect. Is Elijah innocent or a deadly thief?
When the theft of an Aztec statue threatens to destabilize the provinces on the Texas border, Federal Marshals Adam and Madison are called in to go undercover and investigate.
The last thing Adam expects is to be attracted to a young man from one of the ranches they are investigating.
With time running out, Adam must face his growing love for Elijah while keeping his true identity a secret and locating the Breath of the Feathered Serpent.
But he and Madison are facing a thief as deadly as he is elusive and a statue with powers of its own.
Adam’s gaze fixed on the newcomers. There was something odd about them, and then he realized they both wore the same red and black checkered shirts and grey hats. One rider dismounted and came forward. Adam was glad most of his face was hidden by his hat. The rider was a woman, lean and athletic. It was only as she drew close that Adam saw the slight curves of her figure. Auburn hair tumbled from under her hat and curled down to her slim shoulders. She knelt down next to the body.
“What happened to him?” she asked brusquely.
“Seems the water in the through is bad, ma’am,” Madison said, tipping his hat as he spoke.
“My name is Ellen, not ma’am.” She glared at Madison as if daring him to say more.
Adam smirked and then looked at the other rider who’d dismounted. To Adam’s surprise, it wasn’t another woman as he’d assumed. The young man had the same lean build and auburn hair as his sister, but as he came closer, the masculine angles of his face were clearly visible, as were the lush, full lips that made Adam lick his own, suddenly dry ones.
He stared at the youth. In his time, Adam had bedded, or been bedded by, more men than he cared to count, let alone remember. He’d become jaded, and he knew it. But there was just something about this man that piqued his interest. Adam was quite certain that in a month, a year, or even a decade from now, if he lived that long, he would remember the plaid-shirted, beautiful young man.
The stranger came to stand by his sister. “That’s Charlie. Or it was.” He looked from Madison to Adam and back again. “You fellers find him?”
“That’s right, Mister…” Madison waited for a name.
“Elijah. I’m Elijah.”
“Did he discuss coming here with you?” Ellen asked, looking at Elijah. “I saw the two of you talking together.”
“Nope. Not with me. He said he wanted to have a word with Uncle and see you about something. He never mentioned anything about riding out here.”
Adam pursed his lips. It seemed to him that a whole heap of attention was focused on one dead cowpoke. But then again, not many ranch hands ended up dead from bad water on a supposedly deserted ranch. More surprisingly was the disappointment he felt realizing that Elijah might have been the last man to see Charlie alive. That made him a potential suspect.
“Well if it’s all the same to you, Sheriff, Adam and me will be getting along and head into town. Maybe we’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Ellen. We’re short of funds right now and hoping to find some ranch work.” Madison tipped his hat to Ellen, who remained stone-faced.
“Given we’ve lost Charlie, we could do with some help, Sis,” Elijah said.
“Maybe. But the final say will be Uncle’s. Don’t forget that,” Ellen said. “Let’s go. We need to let him know what’s happened. If you fellers are thinking of calling round, make it before noon. Uncle likes to take a nap in the afternoon, and we never disturb him when he’s resting. I take it you’ll take care of the remains, Sheriff? Or maybe you will, Mr. Carter. Another one of your charitable acts.” Not waiting for a reply, Ellen headed toward her horse with Elijah a step behind.
Walking towards their own horses, Adam watched the twins from the corner of his eye.
“She’s a fiery one,” Madison muttered. “Must be the red hair. Pretty enough though.”
“Yes, he was.” Adam realized his slip too late to censure it.
“He? Well, I guess so. He catch your eye, buddy?” Madison asked, his lips curling upwards into a smirk.
“Doesn’t matter if he did. How did that cowpoke get poisoned? What was he even doing here? Was Elijah the last to see him, and if so, did he know Charlie was coming here or did he send him here? The kid’s a suspect, nothing more, Madison.”
“Hmm, well maybe,” Madison said. “Let’s get into town. See what we can find out about the kids and their uncle. And Carter. Didn’t sound like Ellen thought too highly of him.”
“Why was Carter there? This isn’t his ranch, and Charlie wasn’t his hand. And just what in the hell made them all come out here?” There were way too many questions left unanswered for Adam’s liking. “Any or all of them could be suspects,” he muttered as he swung up into his saddle. “I don’t trust that sheriff or Carter.”
From on his horse, Adam glanced around quickly. Elijah and his sister were already headed back in the direction they’d come. One of the sheriff’s men rode in the direction of town as if chased by the hounds of hell, while Carter and Jackson stood close together talking. Adam was used to reading body language. Carter seemed mighty angry and the sheriff subdued. “Carter looks to have Jackson under his thumb.”
“Sure does. If that’s true then there’ll be some gossip in town. Let’s pick somewhere to stay and hit the local saloon. A few whiskies should loosen some tongues.”
As Madison urged his horse into a fast canter, Adam followed, and he struggled to push away the image of Elijah that his memory held onto with tenacity. Even if he wasn’t a suspect, there’s no way a gorgeous, young thing like that is going to be interested in a grizzled, jaded old man like me. He’ll be dreaming of pretty girls in bonnets and frills, with lots of little red-headed babies. Pull yourself together, man. It’s dangerous enough without you daydreaming of what will never be.