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An Eye for an Eye


A Promise Given

Redwood Falls, Texas

Katie Turner hopped down the school bus steps and waved to the driver as the bus sped away. She was in an almighty hurry as excitement sent a happy thrill straight to her tummy. Her class was going to have a math quiz tomorrow, and she had to get home as fast as she could to try to find her cousin, Josh. Their teacher was finally going to give away Molly the math bear, and the toy was filled to the top with jellybeans. Josh knew his multiplication tables better than anybody in their class, and he just had to come to school tomorrow.

She had no idea why her cousin hadn't been at school the last couple of days, but she knew that her mother was worried about him again. Josh lived in one of the small cabins on the property with his father, and lately, it seemed he'd missed more school than usual.

Katie was on a mission to find him as quickly as she could, and she took off running down the dirt and gravel road that lead to the entrance of their farm. As she rounded the corner next to the mailbox, her right foot lost traction and she came tumbling to the ground in a dead stop.

As she fell, pain shot through her knees and up her legs until it seemed to radiate all over her body. Too late to save her knees, Katie twisted to her side, thrust out her hands to break her fall and landed on her bottom.

Tears came to her eyes as she sat, dazed and in pain, while blood welled from her knees and her scraped-up palms. Abruptly, she forgot all about the jellybeans as misery settled like a lead ball in her stomach.

She began to cry in harsh sobs until she realized that she was acting like a baby, and then angrily brushed the tears away. She took a deep breath and gritted her teeth. She was in second grade, she wasn't a little kid anymore, and she was ashamed of herself for crying. Thank goodness nobody was around to see her.

Katie tried to stand up, but a wrenching pain in her ankle knocked her to her bottom again, and with a wave of self-pity she realized that she wouldn't be able to walk the half-mile home like she usually did.

She almost started crying again, but before more tears could form, she was distracted as a gleaming black pick-up truck came barreling down the dirt road and stopped in a cloud of dust, just a few feet past her. A teenaged boy got out of the truck, walked up beside her and went down on his haunches next to her.

She had no idea who he was, she couldn't remember ever seeing him before. Except for her family's small farm, the huge McIntyre spread took up all the land the eye could see around here, so she had no idea where this boy could be going out here in the middle of nowhere.

Katie didn't say anything as he glanced at the blood running down her shins. "Hey, kid," he said amiably, as if she wasn't hurt at all.

She frowned at him but went ahead and answered. "Hey."

"Do you think you can walk?"

Katie bit her lip to keep it from wobbling. "Nope. I already tried."

He nodded his head. "What's your name?"

"Katie Turner."

He smiled at her and when he did, Katie thought he looked cute enough to be in a boy-band. "I guess I better take you home," he told her as if the decision had already been made.

Katie narrowed her eyes in suspicion. She wanted to go with him, but there was this thing her mom always preached about called stranger danger. "Who are you? I don't know who you are."

"I'm Zach McIntyre."

Her eyes widened. She knew all about the Bar M ranch and how big it was, but she didn't know they had an almost grown boy living there. She knew there was a little kid named Hannah who lived on the humongous ranch, but she didn't know anything about a teenaged boy.

While she debated the idea of him taking her home, he said persuasively, "Come on, it'll be okay." He made a move to pick her up, but Katie sucked in her breath and flinched away from him. He pulled back immediately. "I'm just going to pick you up and put you in the truck, okay? Then I'll drive you home."

She pursed her lips and shook her head.

"Your hesitation is admirable, kid. I'm sure your parents would be proud of you." He let out a sigh and glanced around at the empty countryside before turning back to face her. "Look, do you know Hannah?" At her nod, he asked, "Would it make you feel any better if I told you that Hannah is my little sister?"

Katie nodded her head again.

"And would it make you feel safer to know that Hannah's in my truck right now waiting to get home?"

Katie twisted, looked past him, and saw the little girl, with her missing front teeth and curly blonde hair, waving through the window and smiling widely. Katie recognized the kindergartner right away and smiled back at her. Then she looked back at the boy. "I guess it'll be okay if you take me home."

"I'm gonna have to pick you up, okay?"

Katie sucked in a quivering breath as she realized that the move to his truck wouldn't be done without added pain. She steeled her nerves. "Okay."

He must have recognized her fear, because he reached out and tipped her chin up with one finger, until she was looking into his concerned brown eyes. "It won't hurt, okay?"

Katie's resolve crumbled, and she tried like the devil not to cry, but a tear escaped anyway. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." He released her chin and tapped her on the nose. Another tear fell and he frowned and wiped it away with a gentle finger. "Don't cry."

"I can't help it. I'm scared, and I hurt," she said as another tear spilled down her cheek.

His brown eyes held hers and the look in them made her want to put her faith in him. "You've got to trust me. I'm going to be as easy and gentle as I can be."

Katie swallowed hard. "I know but I'm scared it's going to hurt even more."

His lips flattened and his voice rumbled with deep determination. "Not if I can help it." He leaned down until his face was so close to hers that Katie could see slivers of gold running through his dark brown eyes. His hand moved to cup her cheek and his voice was deep and smooth and held a promise that comforted her and dried her tears. "I'd never intentionally hurt you, not in a million years."

He reached down to scoop her up and Katie closed her eyes and went willingly into the safety and comfort of his arms.

Part One

Chapter One

A Promise Broken

Redwood Falls, The Bar M Ranch: Ten years later

Zachary McIntyre sat in the office of the ranch house determined to fight the grief that tried to drag him down. He refused to let the turbulent emotions take over his soul. A ruthless need to survive, to come out alive and whole, put steel in his backbone.

Darkness had long ago descended and he leaned back in the chair and studied the room as he tried to let the familiar comfort of being in his childhood home calm the pain and emptiness in his gut. Refusing to think about what he'd so recently lost in his life, he sat back and absorbed the quiet that pulsed from this part of the house.

His father and stepmother, Janet, had left for Shreveport again, where they'd been going so often to visit Janet's mother who was fighting what appeared to be a losing battle with cancer. He had been inordinately relieved when his parents had requested his presence this weekend at the ranch. Since his step-grandmother's illness, his parents had been practically living at the older woman's home in Louisiana, only coming home every few days to check on Hannah. Getting away from the isolation of his apartment in Dallas was a godsend for him at this moment in time.

The clock ticked on the wall and punctuated the lack of noise around him. Emptiness assailed him as he swirled the amber liquid in his glass and took another sip. As he inhaled the heady aroma, he forced himself to be thankful that he still had his family.

The sharp bite of bourbon burned as it slid down his throat. It was only his second drink of the evening, but he knew it had to be the last. Above all else, he had to maintain control. A man who lost control could lose everything. He had worked too damn hard, and was responsible for the livelihoods of too many people to risk a meltdown. As he gritted his teeth against the loneliness and pain, he swore to God and all that was holy, that he wouldn't slip any more than he already had, that he'd get a grip and go on with his life.

The blow he'd received had been bad, but he was determined to live through it without any consequences. He could keep breathing; he would contain his emotions; he would be strong. He would focus on his parents and his sister and his business, not on what he'd lost. He would dedicate the next few years of his life to building his empire, and when he could take the time away from Dallas, he would help with his father's ranch.

He took another drink and refused to let the dark specter of Chris Turner and everything the man had stolen from him invade his memory. The other man was dead now and Zach was fiercely determined to move on with his life. He took a deep breath and thought he had it under control until the youngest member of the hated Turner family forced herself into his brain against his will. Katie Turner. Unwanted heat burned down Zach's spine. The picture of her flitting around Redwood Falls, causing turmoil and pretending to be oblivious to the heated male looks she received burned into his mind. It burned into his groin knowing she was, at this moment, in this very house.

He hated the fact that a Turner was one of Hannah's best friends. Katie seemed innocuous enough on the surface, but she was two years older than Hannah, and he didn't see any good reason she should have latched onto his little sister. He gritted his teeth as the instinct to protect his sister from pain and harm rose to the surface. The Turner girl was trouble and he didn't want her around Hannah.