FAMILY SECRETS HAVE A WAY OF HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT….
When photo journalist Kamaria Trayhern goes undercover at the Mason family ranch, she’s hoping to find her real father, not romance. But keeping everyone convinced she is who she claims to be will be harder than she expects–especially where on sexy ranch hand is concerned.
After all he’s been through, there’s no way Wesley Sheridan wants to tangle with more heartache and lies. So the last thing he needs is to be drawn to the pretty new caretaker. But with a jealous killer out to rewrite Mason family history forever, two lonely hearts must learn to trust each other…if they hope to survive the season.
It was time. As she sat at her bedroom table in Montana, Kam Trayhern’s hands grew damp. Outside her window, the May dusk turned a lush pink and orange above the Douglas firs surrounding the two-story Montana home of her adopted parents, Morgan and Laura Trayhern.
Now that she’d returned from a harrowing trip to Africa, she had to face the rest of her life, starting with her birth. Kam lifted a folder marked Tracy Elizabeth Fielding. She opened it and smoothed out the papers inside with trembling hands. She shouldn’t be so emotional about this. But she was.
Her gaze fell upon the black-and-white photo that had haunted her for years. The edges were stained and darkened from age and damage from the earthquake that had hit Los Angeles twenty-eight years earlier. A marine dog handler and her golden retriever had found Kam and her biological mother in the debris of their destroyed apartment complex. That day, Kam’s mother had died but she had lived, thanks to that marine, Callie Evans. Kam had been taken to Camp Reed on the Marine Corps base for treatment of her minor injuries.
Kam turned on the desk light to get a better look at the old photo. Just like that the dusk within the room disappeared, but nothing could make her nightmares disappear. She had to face facts. Morgan and Laura Trayhern had adopted her when they discovered she had no family. Her mother had been an orphan and there was no trace of her father. At the time of the quake, many records, memories and photos had been lost—forever. All Kam had from the apartment was this photo. It had been found in her mother’s purse.
The photo showed her mother, Elizabeth, with black curly hair like her own, standing with three men. She wore a white lab coat for a Los Angeles veterinary convention. Another vet stood next to her, smiling toothily for the photo. The note on the back identified the veterinary convention. A businessman in a dark gray suit stood on the other side. Kam’s gaze drifted to the third man, the tallest one, to the left of her mother. He looked like a cowboy with his black Stetson. His weathered square face, a mustache and narrowed eyes spoke of the harsh elements, most likely from ranching.
How many times had Kam looked at this photo and wondered if one of these three men were her father? Kam frowned and peered more closely at the man standing with her mother. She felt an instinctive churn of her gut as she looked almost longingly at the cowboy. He stood out from the others. Taller than all of them, he was built lean, like a wolf. His face was darkly sunburned, deep creases and laugh lines showed at the corners of his eyes. Everyone in the photo was smiling except him. And her mother was caught looking in his direction. Was this a secret look of love?
A lump formed in Kam’s throat. Of course, her adopted father, Morgan, had turned over every stone to find her biological father. After all, Morgan was in the security business at the highest levels of the government with his super-secret Perseus and Medusa companies. No one in the outside world knew what he did for a living. As a cover, Morgan had created a real-estate front to hide his real reasons for being in Phillipsburg, Montana. His secret offices were located deep below the basement level of the turn-of-the-century Victorian house. Kam had been raised in a two-story cedar home not far from the office.
Morgan had promised Kam to find every possible scrap of information on her mother, and over the years, he had. The questions remained: Who had fathered her? And why hadn’t that man ever come forward to claim her? These questions cut like a knife. Because she owed Morgan and Laura everything, Kam had waited a long time to approach them about seeking her biological father herself. She simply did not want to hurt them. But now she couldn’t put it off. She had decided to take a hiatus from her professional photography job as a stringer for several global newspapers and magazines. This way, she’d have the time and energy to conduct her search. And her parents had to know her plan.
Kam wiped her damp hands on the sides of her jeans. How would they react? Again, her gut tightened with fear. Would they be angry? Throw her out of the house that she had called home for twenty-eight years? Oh, it was true that she was a globetrotter and had come home only about once a year since turning twenty-one, but still… Kam dreaded the possibility that they would kick her out of their lives.
And then, where would she be? Without any family. Her mother had been an adopted child, and the people who had adopted her were dead along with whatever memories and information they had. It was the worst kind of ending for Kam—to be an orphan of an orphan. What had she done to be a lost spirit in this lifetime? Kam believed in reincarnation, believed that her soul would never die, but that it would return lifetime after lifetime into different bodies to learn how to become a compassionate and spiritually enlightened human being.
Two of the few items retrieved from Elizabeth’s destroyed apartment had been a book on Buddhism and one on reincarnation. These books were now dog-eared from being read so many times. Kam had wanted to adopt her mother’s views on life and, to a degree, she had. Consequently, her beliefs were different from those of the Trayhern family. They didn’t mind nor did they try to force her into their belief system.
It was time. Now was the time to focus and not dwell on the past. As scared as she was, Kam knew she had to initiate the search and conquer this fear. Why should she be afraid anyway? She was wise and worldly thanks to her career. Many times, she’d gone into war-torn and ravaged third-world countries to bring people’s suffering and needs to the world’s attention. Her photos had garnered her many awards over the years and she’d made more than enough money to take time off to hunt for her real father.
Taking a deep breath, Kam glanced down at the watch on her wrist. The family would sit down to dinner at 7:00 p.m., as always. She’d arrived three days earlier from her last assignment in Africa. Her mother, Laura, was throwing a party for her this weekend. Her brother Jason and his wife, Annie, and their children lived nearby and would attend. Kathy, one of the fraternal twins, had just married raptor rehabilitator, Sky McCoy. They, too, would be at her return celebration dinner.
Knowing her father would be home by now, Kam decided to talk with him first. Morgan always had a glass of red wine and relaxed from the day’s pressures before dinner in the airy library. Standing up, Kam rubbed her knotted stomach. Above all, she didn’t want to upset Morgan and Laura. They were the last people she ever wanted to hurt. Torn because she loved them deeply, she sighed.
Kam picked up the photo and headed downstairs. Classical music wafted through the cathedral roof of the cedar home. She smelled basil and knew her mother was probably cooking up a pesto sauce to go with some Italian dish. If only Kam had an appetite.
Her father sat in the study surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. He was in his favorite burgundy leather chair reading. Her heart blossomed with a fierce love for this man. Never had he or Laura ever treated her as anything but their treasured daughter. He lifted his head and a smiled with welcome as she entered the room. She noted he was graying at the temples, but his hair still gleamed black beneath the stained-glass lamp suspended above him.
“Hi, Dad,” she greeted, her voice hoarse and wavering.
“Kam. Well, are you finally caught up on sleep and out of the jet lag?”
She forced a smile she didn’t feel and brought up an upholstered burgundy stool. “Yeah, I think I’ve left Africa behind.”
Morgan closed his book and gave her an assessing look. “Is something wrong? You seem upset.”
“I could never hide a thing from you, could I?” She managed a strangled chuckle. Her hands shook slightly as she nervously held the picture between them.
Morgan took a sip of his wine and placed the glass back on the cherry lamp table next to his chair. “No,” he murmured, giving her a softened look. “What are you holding?”
Kam was forever surprised by Morgan’s keen alertness. He always knew when something was on her mind. “What? Oh this…” Her mouth grew dry and the fear amped up so much that she felt nearly suffocated. She held out the photo to him. “Dad, you remember this picture they took from my mom’s purse after I was rescued?”
Frowning, Morgan studied the photo. “Yes, I do, Kam.” Softening his tone, he added, “What have you decided to do?”
Kam cleared her throat. “Dad, I think that one of these men might be my biological father.” She rushed on when his brows raised. “I know this probably sounds silly and far-fetched but my gut instinct tells me this. I—I want the chance to find out. I want to take the next year off and run down the leads.”
Nodding, Morgan rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and clasped his hands. “It’s time, Kam. Laura and I were wondering when you would begin the long, hard journey to try and find your father.”
“You did?” Her voice sounded thin and stretched. Heart pounding furiously in her breast, she lowered her eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you, Dad. Or Mom. I—I know this has to be painful for both of you.”
“Baby girl,” Morgan whispered, reaching out to her, “we expected you someday to try to locate the man who made it possible for you to be in our life.” He gave her a quick squeeze on the shoulders and released her. “You’re human, Kam. Every person wants to know who their mother and father are. You’re no different.” He tousled her short hair. “Frankly, we were concerned because you didn’t seem to want to go on that journey. We know you wear your heart on your sleeve. And we know how sensitive you are toward all living things. We felt you just hadn’t built up enough of a desire to go after him yet. I’m glad this moment has come, Kam. For you.”
Blinking through sudden, hot tears, Kam absorbed Morgan’s quick embrace. It was filled with such love and caring. “I—I just don’t want to lose you two.”
“You won’t ever lose us, Kam,” Morgan assured her, his voice growing raspy.
Kam searched his blue-gray eyes and saw tears. “You’ve given me so much. You are so generous, kind and caring….”
“And we’ll always be that way with you, Kam. When you love someone, that never changes. Time only deepens love. And that’s how we feel about you. I’m sure Laura will be glad to hear your plans.”
Just like that, Kam’s heart stopped racing and she felt more at peace. “So, you really think Mom will be okay with this?”
Morgan chuckled and sat back in his chair. “If I know her, she’ll want to help you find your birth father. Listen to me, Kam. All we want is for you to be happy. We know how much it means to have those few items from your mother’s apartment. Parents are bedrock for a child. They tell you where you came from, what kind of person loved you enough to have you. And now, you need to find your birth father.”
“He’s never come to find me…” Kam choked. Tears blurred her vision for a moment. “You don’t know how many nights I lay up there in my bed wondering why he never came to see me. I—I have had so many nightmares about this, Dad. That he didn’t want me…”
The words were terrible to say. To admit. Kam thought them often, but to say them out loud was like having a weight sit on her that she could no longer avoid or dodge. She saw Morgan’s face twist with concern.
“Kammie, don’t go there. At least, not yet. What if he didn’t know about you?”
“I’ve run through that scenario,” Kam admitted.
“But if that was so, why didn’t my mother contact him? Tell him she was pregnant with me? Why didn’t he return to her life and take the responsibility?”
Shrugging, Morgan said gently, “We won’t know those answers until you find him and confront him.”
She pressed a hand to her chest. “I just get so envious of people who know who their birth moms and dads are. I ache inside because I don’t. I just feel this huge hole in my heart and there’s nothing that can really fill it except to know who my father is.”
“I know,” Morgan whispered, a catch in his tone. Reaching out, he squeezed Kam’s hand. “One step at a time, baby girl. When we have dinner tonight, let your mom know what you want to do. I’ll bet she can help.”
Nodding, Kam clung to his hand. Morgan Trayhern was a giant in the military and spy business. His reputation was one of respect, integrity and admiration. This man, who was so powerful, was also her dad, the man who had raised her with nothing but love. Kam knew how lucky she was, and, as she sat there clinging to his grip, she understood that her biological father would never meet his stature of this man.
Laura and Morgan sat with Kam after the dinner table had been cleared.
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