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Holden (The Lawmen of Silver Creek Ranch #10)

By´╝ÜDelores Fossen

Holden (The Lawmen of Silver Creek Ranch #10)
Author: Delores Fossen

Chapter One

Something wasn't right.

US Marshal Holden Ryland didn't have to rely on his lawman's instincts to know that. The Craftsman-style house was pitch-dark except for a single dim light in the front room. The home owner, Nicky Hart, hated the dark, and whenever she was home, every light was usually blazing.

So, either she'd skipped out on their little chat, or... Holden decided to go with the skipping-out theory because at the moment it was the lesser of two evils. After all, there was a reason why they needed to talk.

A bad one.

Holden slid his hand over the gun in his holster and got out of his truck. He'd barely made it a few steps when her white cat came darting out from beneath the porch. It headed right toward him, coiling around his leg and meowing.

Another sign that something was wrong.

Nicky didn't let the cat outside-ever.

So, was Nicky inside? And if so, had something happened to her? Holden cursed himself for not having done a silent approach. That way, he could have parked up the street, slipped around to the side of the house and looked in the windows. It might have alerted her neighbors, but that was better than dealing with some of the bad scenarios going through his head. Still, he hadn't taken that precaution because he hadn't figured he would run in to any kind of immediate trouble.

Well, no trouble other than an argument with Nicky.

When he'd called Nicky an hour earlier and told her that he was on his way to their hometown of Silver Creek to talk to her, she hadn't said a word about anything being wrong. In fact, she sounded as if she'd been expecting his call. But then, she'd sent a text just a few minutes later, saying she wouldn't be available after all.


Holden wasn't about to believe that lie. She was dodging him. And not doing a very good job of it, either, because her garage door was up, and he could see her car. That meant she was probably inside and that there was a good explanation for no lights on and the cat being outside. He hoped there was a good explanation anyway.

He kept watch around him, kept watch of the house, too, and made his way to the porch. However, before Holden could even ring the bell, the front door flew open, and he braced himself for what he might see.

But it was only Nicky.

He looked at her, from head to toe. She was wearing jeans and an old concert T-shirt, and had her auburn hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. No visible injuries or signs of distress. She was scowling at him, but over the past year or so, that was the norm whenever she laid eyes on him.

"Didn't you get my text?" she asked.

"Got it. Ignored it. Because we need to talk." Holden moved to go around her and inside, but she stepped in front of him, blocking his path.

"It's not a good time." She paused. "I'm expecting someone."

All right. That gave him a new theory. Maybe Nicky had a hot date who was on the way over. That might explain the lack of lights if she was aiming for something romantic.

A thought that bothered him a lot more than it should have.

Nicky was an attractive woman. Bullheaded and reckless, too. And she was married to her job as an investigative reporter. That said, she was still human and she probably did have a man in her life.

It still didn't mean Holden was going to skip that talk with her. He wouldn't.

Because he needed her to know that she was on the verge of being arrested.

He owed her that much. Barely. After the stunt she'd pulled last year, though, some members of his family might believe he owed her nothing. Still, here he was. He didn't play Mr. Nice Guy very often, and he hoped he didn't regret it this time.

"Tomorrow, you'll get a visit from an FBI agent," he told her.

Nicky didn't even blink. "I don't have time for this." And she would have shut the door in his face, if Holden hadn't blocked it with his foot. The edge of the door smacked against his cowboy boot.

"Make time," he snarled.

She blew out a quick breath. "Look, I know you're still in love with me," she said, "but you have to leave."

Holden tightened the grip on his gun. Yeah, something was definitely wrong. Because there was no way in hell he was in love with Nicky, and she knew it, too.

She shook her head, just a little, and glanced at the hold that he had on his gun. Was she telling him not to draw? Or was that head shake about something else?

Holden intended to find out.

But it was best not to confront this head-on. Because the living room behind her was dark, he couldn't tell if there was someone waiting in the shadows. Someone armed and ready to kill her. Or maybe she'd discovered her house was bugged and she didn't want to say anything incriminating.

Holden hoped it was the second option.

"I'll be back tomorrow," Holden lied. "And we will talk then."

Leaving was a risk-anything he did at this point could be. But Holden hoped if there was someone inside that it was a good sign that the person had let Nicky answer the door. The person didn't want her dead.

Not yet anyway.

In her quest to get info on a story she was working on, she could have gotten herself mixed up with some very dangerous people, and that involvement might be coming back to bite her. To bite him, too, since Holden had to see what was going on. This was well past being a nice guy.

This had just become the job.

He drove his truck up a block, parked and fired off a quick text to his cousin Landon, who was now a deputy in Silver Creek. Holden didn't request backup but told Landon that if he didn't hear from him in fifteen minutes, to send some help-fast.

With that done, Holden hurried to Nicky's house. Not going through the front yard but rather through the back. The houses in the small neighborhood didn't h