Five weeks ago Carly Drake stood at her grandfather’s grave. Now she’s burying Drake Trucking’s top driver, and the cops have no leads on the hijacking or murder. Faced with bankruptcy, phone threats and the fear of failure, Carly has to team up with the last man she wants to owe—Lincoln Cain.
Cain is magnetic, powerful, controlling—and hiding more than one secret. He promised Carly’s granddad he’d protect her. The old man took a chance on him when he was nothing but a kid with a record, and now he’s the multi-millionaire owner of a rival firm.
But Linc’s money can’t protect Carly from the men who’ll do anything to shut her down, or the secrets behind Drake Trucking. If she won’t sell out, the only way to keep her safe is to keep her close . . . and fight like hell.
Iron Springs, Texas
For the second time since her return to Iron Springs, Carly Drake stood in a graveyard. On the opposite side of the coffin, between rows of granite headstones, the Hernandez family huddled together, a wife weeping for her husband, children crying for their father.
Carly bowed her head, her heart aching for the loss of a man she had known only briefly. With her grandfather’s recent passing, she understood the pain Miguel’s family was suffering. Joe Drake, the man who had raised her, the only father Carly had ever known, had died just five weeks ago.
But unlike a heart that had simply worn itself out, Miguel Hernandez, Grandpa Joe’s number-one driver, had been shot in the head, the criminals who had committed the truck hijacking still on the loose.
In the weeks since her grandfather’s death, Carly had been doing her best to run Drake Trucking, to keep the company afloat and its employees’ checks paid. She was doing the best she knew how, but Miguel had been killed on her watch and Carly felt responsible.
The harsh Texas wind kicked up, whipping blades of grass in front of the casket draped with a blanket of blood-red roses. The end of September weather was fickle, hot and humid one day, rainy and overcast the next. Strands of fine blond hair tore free from the tight bun at the nape of her neck. As Carly smoothed the strands back into place, her gaze paused on a man at the far edge of the mourners, a head taller than the men in Miguel’s Hispanic family, taller than most of the truckers or any other man in the crowd, big and broad-shouldered, dark brown hair and a strikingly handsome face.
Carly leaned over and spoke quietly to the woman beside her, Brittany Haworth, a willowy brunette who had been her best friend in high school. As if it had been just days instead of years, their friendship had resumed the day Carly had returned to Iron Springs.
“The man across from us...” Carly said. “The tall one? He was also at Grandpa Joe’s funeral. I remember him going through the line to pay his respects, but I was hurting so much I barely paid attention. Do you know who he is?”
Brittany looked at her, about her same height as Carly’s five-foot-seven inches. “You’re kidding, right? You don’t recognize him? Obviously you don’t read the gossip rags. He’s in the newspapers all the time. That’s Lincoln Cain. You know, the multi-millionaire?”
Carly’s gaze swung across the casket on the mound above the grave to the big man in the perfectly tailored black suit and crisp white shirt. “That’s Cain?”
As if he could feel her watching him, his eyes swung to hers, remained steady on her face. Carly couldn’t seem to look away. There was power in that bold, probing stare. She could actually feel her pulse accelerate. “So what’s Cain doing in Iron Springs?”
“He owns a ranch here. He was born close to here--Pleasant Hill, I think. He left to make his fortune, came back a few years ago mega-rich. It’s a fascinating story. You’ll have to Google him sometime.”
“I still don’t understand why he was at Joe’s funeral, or why he’s here today.”
“For one thing, he was one of Joe’s competitors. Texas American Transportation is one of the biggest trucking companies in the world.”
She nodded. “Tex/Am Transport. I know that, but--“
“Cain credits Joe Drake as one of the people who put him on the path to success. The Iron Springs Gazette published a couple of articles about him and Joe.”
Guilt swept over her. She’d been gone so much. Off to college at the U of Texas in Austin ten years ago, which her grandfather had paid for, then a job in Houston as a flight attendant.
She had always wanted to see the world so instead of coming home to help Grandpa Joe, she’d gone to work for Delta. She been transferred here and there, worked out of New York for a while, came back to Iron Springs a couple of times a year, but her visits never lasted more than a few days before she was gone again, flying somewhere else, off on another adventure.
Five weeks ago, she’d quit her job, given up her apartment in San Francisco where she had been based, and come home to stay. Joe’s heart condition had worsened. She’d started worrying about him, decided to come back and help him run Drake Trucking, take over some of the responsibilities and lesson the stress he was under.
She’d only been in Iron Springs a week when Joe had suffered a massive heart attack. He’d died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. By the time she’d received the call, rushed out of the office and driven like a maniac to Iron Springs Memorial, Joe was gone.
She hadn’t been there for him when he needed her.
Just as she had so many times before, Carly had failed him.
She glanced up at the sound of Brittany’s voice. The service had ended. The mourners were breaking up, people walking away.
“He’s coming over,” Brit whispered. “Lincoln Cain.”
Carly honed in on him, at least six-five, a man impossible to miss. She straightened as he approached.
“Ms. Drake? I’m Lincoln Cain.” He extended a big hand and she set hers in it, felt a warm, comforting spread of heat. Since being comforted only made her feel like crying, she eased her hand away.
“We met briefly at your grandfather’s service,” Cain said, “but I doubt you recall.”
His eyes were green, she realized, with gold flecks in the center. He had a slight cleft in his chin and a jaw that looked carved in stone. “Yes, I remember seeing you there. I don’t recall much else. It was very bad day.”
“Yes, it was.”
She turned. “This is my friend, Brittany Haworth.”
He made a faint nod of his head. “Ms. Haworth.”
“Nice to meet you,” Britt said. She’d always been shy. The way she was looking at Cain, as if Chris Hemsworth, the sexiest man alive, had just dropped by for a visit, Carly was surprised her friend was able to speak.
Cain’s gaze returned to Carly. “I realize how difficult it must be, going through all of this again so soon. Once more you have my condolences.”
“Thank you. It’s been difficult. But my grandfather lived a long full life. I can only imagine how terrible this is for Miguel’s family.”
A muscle in Cain’s jaw tightened. “Maybe catching his killer will ease some of their pain.”
“You think they will?”
There was something in the way he said it. Surely he didn’t intent to involve himself in catching the men who’d murdered Miguel.
“I didn’t realize you were a friend of my grandfather’s.”
His features relaxed as if a fond memory had surfaced. “Joe Drake was a good man. One of the best. He gave me my first job. Did you know that?”
Her eyes burned. That sounded so like Joe. Never a hand-out but always a hand-up whenever one was needed. “I wasn’t around much after I got out of high school. I should have come home more often. You’ll never know how much I regret that.”
His expression shifted, became unreadable. “We all do things we regret.” Up close he was even better looking than she had first thought, his dark hair cut a little shorter on the sides, narrow brackets beside his mouth that only appeared once in a while, not dimples, but something more subtle, more intriguing. “Your grandfather loved you very much.”
A lump swelled in her throat. She had loved him, too. She’d never realized how little time they would have. “Thank you for saying that.” She needed to leave. She was going to cry and she didn’t want to do that in front of Cain. “I’m sorry, but if you’ll excuse me, I need to say good-bye to Miguel’s wife, Conchita, before we go.”
He nodded. “There’s something I need to discuss with you. After Joe died, I waited. I wanted to give you time to grieve, but after what happened to Miguel, it can’t wait any longer.”
She tried to imagine what Cain wanted. Something to do with Joe, she thought. “All right. You can reach me at the office. I’m there every day.”
“I know the number. I’ll be in touch.”
She watched as he turned and walked away, wide shoulders, narrow hips, long powerful legs striding across the grass as if he had something important to do. What could one of the wealthiest men in Texas possibly want to talk to her about?
Carly watched as Cain slid into the back of a shiny black stretch limo waiting for him at the edge of the graveyard.
“I wonder what he wants,” Brittany said, voicing Carly’s thoughts.
“He’s in the transportation business, so it must have something to do with Drake Trucking.”
“You’re probably right. But Tex Am Transport is only a small part of his company. Cain owns half of Texas American Enterprises, which means it could be anything. Or maybe it’s something personal, something to do with your grandfather.”
“Maybe. I guess I’ll find out.” Carly started making her way through the tombstones. Up ahead, Conchita Hernandez and the rest of Miguel’s family stood on the church steps, accepting condolences. Carly squared her shoulders and kept walking.
She wasn’t what he had imagined. Oh, she was as pretty as the pictures her grandfather had proudly shown him: late twenties, taller than average, with big blue eyes and wavy golden blond hair past her shoulders. Joe had shown him a photo of her playing volleyball on the beach so he knew what she looked like in a bikini, knew she had a dynamite figure.
She didn’t seem concerned with her appearance the way he’d expected. He thought she’d be more aloft, more self-absorbed. He hadn’t expected her to be grieving her grandfather so deeply.
He’d been sure he wouldn’t like her. Not the young woman who had accepted so much and returned so little.
And yet as he had watched her with Miguel’s family, as he read her sorrow, the depth of her concern, he had been surprisingly moved. She felt responsible in some way for her employee’s death. She blamed herself and he couldn’t allow that to happen.
Linc had made a vow to her grandfather. He’d promised Joe Drake that if the worst happened and his heart gave up, he would look after Carly, make sure she was okay.
Linc planned to do just that.
And the best way he could take care of her was to buy her out of Drake Trucking. The best thing he could do for Carly was to send her packing--before she ended up as dead as Miguel Hernandez.
Carly turned the corner and pulled up to the curb in the white F-150 pickup she was driving. DRAKE TRUCKING gleamed in dark blue letters on the doors, along with the logo of a stylized male duck in flight--a drake.
“Thanks for the ride.” Britt cracked open her door.
“Thanks for going with me.”
“Miguel was a really nice guy. I can’t believe someone killed him.”
Sadness rolled over her. Such a senseless murder. Why hadn’t Miguel cooperated with the hijackers? A piece of equipment, no matter how valuable, wasn’t worth his life. Or maybe he’d given them what they wanted and they had murdered him anyway. Maybe they were just cold blooded killers.
“I’m calling Sheriff Howler as soon as I get back to the office,” Carly said. “I need to see if he’s made any progress on the case.”
“I hope they catch whoever did it.”
Carly hoped they sent the bastards straight to hell, but she didn’t say that. “So do I.”
“You want to come in, have a glass of iced tea or something?” Brittany asked.
“I need to get back. I’ve got a ton of work to do.” Including writing paychecks. Not easy when you had to juggle accounts, borrow from Peter to pay Paul, try to keep all of the balls in the air so none of the checks would bounce.
“Okay, I’ll call you later.” Britt slammed the pickup door, turned and headed up the sidewalk to the front door of the small gray brick house she rented. It had a white picket fence, white shuttered windows, and a perfectly tended lawn. Flowerbeds overflowed with yellow and purple pansies.
Britt was a homebody, always had been. A substitute teacher at Iron Springs Elementary, her dream was to marry and have a family. So far that hadn’t happened.
After a five year engagement, Britt had come home early to find her fiancé--what was the legal term?--in flagrante delicto with the voluptuous neighbor who lived down the block.
Britt had been devastated, but Carly hadn’t been all that surprised. Being a flight attendant, she had met and dated men from all over the world. In her experience, guys were fun for a while, but as soon as you fell in love with one of them, he was gone, looking for another conquest.
Britt might seem as if she’d weathered the heartbreak, but inside her heart was still broken. Carly wasn’t sure how long it would take her tender heart to mend.
It wasn’t going to happen to her--not again. She’d been engaged two times. Both had ended in disaster when the man she thought loved her found someone to replace her.
Currently and for the last several months, she’d been taking a break from men. She’d had enough disappointment to last a lifetime. She wasn’t ready to jump into the dating game again.
One look at Brittany told her she had made the right decision. Add to that, she had inherited her grandfather’s trucking firm, a fleet of fifteen Peterbilt tractor trucks and an assortment of trailers. With a company that grossed over a million each year and employed twenty eight people, she didn’t have time to date.
Thinking of the afternoon ahead and the pile of work she faced, Carly pulled the pickup onto Highway 67 and headed back to Drake Trucking.
Returning to his office in Dallas, Linc loosened his tie as he stepped out of the elevator on the executive floor of Tex/Am’s corporate headquarters building, a six-story, mirrored glass structure on North Central Expressway.
The receptionist, Leslie Bingham, sat behind a sleek teakwood desk that matched the low wooden tables in the contemporary seating area. The smooth, rust-grained wood posed a warm contrast to the nubby texture of the oatmeal fabric on the sofa and chairs.
Linc walked past the desk, heading for his private office.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Cain.”
He smiled absently, his mind still back in Iron Springs. “Afternoon, Les.”
She smiled in return, a perky, freckle-faced redhead in her late twenties with a pleasant disposition and plenty of ambition, just what he liked in an employee.
There were only two offices on the top floor of the building, his and his partner, Beau Reese. Each of them had a personal assistant who worked in a private area behind the receptionist desk. Staff worked in cubicles nearby, serving both him and Beau.
Linc waved at Mildred Whitelaw, a brunette in her early forties who was one of his most valuable employees, the lady who had kept him organized and on track since he and Beau had first started building the company.
He pulled open the door leading into his private office and walked inside, his gaze going to the wall of windows that wrapped around the room and looked over the busy Dallas streets.
The teakwood theme he had personally chosen for the executive floor continued in here, though the sofa and chairs were caramel leather instead of fabric.
Linc stripped off the black suit coat he had worn to Miguel Hernandez’s funeral, draped it over the valet along the wall, sat down behind his desk and went to work. He had a four o’clock conference call with the mayor of Ruidoso regarding a road construction project in New Mexico on Highway 48 north of the city. The job was just getting started. He didn’t want any glitches so he needed to be prepared.
He picked up the file Millie had set on his desk, but instead of flipping it open, his mind went back to his graveside encounter with Carly Drake. He hit the intercom button.
“Millie, I need you to set up a meeting with Carly Drake at Drake Trucking. Tomorrow would be best. Whatever time works in my schedule, but the sooner the better.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Millie said.
Linc turned back to the file, but his thoughts strayed again to the pretty little blue-eyed blonde, Joe Drake’s granddaughter. She wasn’t a slender woman, not overly buxom either. She had more than enough curves to look feminine, but there was something solid about her that gave the impression of strength.
He remembered the first heart attack Joe had suffered. Linc had gone to the hospital to see him, been surprised at how frail the tough old man had looked. Lying in that hospital bed, Joe had stared at his mortality and faced it head on, the way he did everything else.
He had asked Linc a favor that day, as he had never done before, asked that if something happened to him, Linc would look after his granddaughter, make sure Carly was okay.
Joe didn’t give his trust lightly and Linc didn’t make promises he didn’t intend to keep. The day Joe had died, Carly Drake had become his responsibility.
He would buy the company, make the sale quick and profitable for her, make sure everything was handled smoothly. He’d find out what plans she had for the future and insure they came to fruition.
He owed Joe Drake more than he could ever repay. This last small favor was the least he could do.
Purchase Beyond Reason
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