Protector

By: Diana Palmer

Dear Reader,


As most of you know, Sheriff Hayes Carson has been one of my longest-running characters. He’s been in the Long, Tall, Texans series almost from the beginning. He’s comforted sad heroines, he’s captured bad guys, he’s investigated murders, and he’s done it all with grace and humor.

Now, finally, his lonely life is coming to a close. I mean that he’s finally met the woman of his dreams and she turns out to be his worst enemy, Minette Raynor. I loved the way she stood up to him in Winter Roses. I love the way she is with her siblings. She is a woman with grace and guts. Just perfect for a guy like Hayes.

I won’t give away the story line, but she proves that women can be heroines as surely as men can, without losing one iota of their femininity. In between her trials and tribulations with Hayes, she has to gain the affection of a very large lizard who hates her.

I have kept iguanas for many years. I think they make wonderful pets, and I love sharing my life with them. I have two new ones now, a large one and a little one, and many thanks to Sam of Backwater Reptiles for helping me keep them alive and healthy while I relearned what I’d forgotten about these sweet and beautiful creatures. My two are captive bred, not wild, and even the dogs and the cats like them.

I hope you enjoy Hayes and Minette as they come face-to-face with danger, and each other, in a wild and tumultuous way. I have enjoyed every minute of the writing of this book.

Barb, you got left out of the last dedication so you’re getting in the reader letter here. Ha! And to my guildies on WOW in Knight Owls of Wow and Honor and Duty, and Ice Dragons on Star Wars: TOR, my thanks for letting me be in your guilds and missing events because I was writing.

I also want to say that I am more grateful to all of you who read me than you will ever know, for your loyalty and your kindness and your continued friendship, over all the long years. You are the reason I keep writing. Thank you for being my friends.

Many hugs, much love, from your biggest fan,

Diana Palmer




Chapter 1

Sheriff Hayes Carson hated Sundays. It was nothing against religion, or church or anything spiritual. He hated Sundays because he always spent them alone. He didn’t have a girlfriend. He’d dated a couple of women around Jacobsville, Texas, but those dates had been few and far between. He hadn’t had a serious relationship since he was just out of the military, when he got engaged to a woman who tossed him over for somebody richer. Well, he had dated Ivy Conley before she married his best friend, Stuart York. He’d had feelings for her, too, but it was not returned on her part.

Besides, he thought ruefully, there was Andy. His scaly pet kept him unattached.

That wasn’t strictly true, he mused. The reason for the dearth of women in his life was mostly his job. He’d been shot twice since he became sheriff, and he’d been sheriff for seven years. He was good at his job. He was reelected without even a runoff. No criminal had ever escaped him. Well, one had—that man they called El Jefe, the biggest drug lord in northern Sonora, Mexico, who had a network that ran right through Jacobs County. But he was going to land El Jefe one day, he promised himself. He hated drug dealers. His own brother, Bobby, had died of an overdose years ago.

He still blamed Minette Raynor for that. Oh, sure, people said she was innocent and that it was Ivy Conley’s sister, Rachel, who’d been killed a year or so ago, who gave Bobby the fatal dose. But Hayes knew that Minette was connected to the tragedy. He really hated her and made no secret of it. He knew something about her that she wasn’t even aware of. He’d kept the secret all his adult life. He wanted to tell her. But he’d promised his father not to reveal the truth.

Hell, he thought, sipping Jack Daniel’s, he wished he could get rid of that inconvenient conscience that wouldn’t let him break his promises. It would save him a lot of grief.

He put the big square whiskey glass down beside his rocking chair, his long legs crossed as he stared out across the bare, rusty-colored meadow to the highway. It was chilly outside most days. Middle November brought frost even to Texas, but it had warmed up a bit today. He’d had supper, so the alcohol wouldn’t affect him very much, except to relax him. He was enjoying the late-afternoon sun. He wished he had someone to share that sunset with. He hated being alone all the time.

Part of the reason for his solitude was sitting on the sofa in his living room, in front of the television. He sighed. His scaly best friend terrorized women. He’d tried to keep Andy secret, even putting him in the spare bedroom on the rare occasions when he brought a date home to ride horses. But inevitably, Andy finally got out when he least expected it. On one occasion while he was making coffee in the spotless kitchen, his pet was sneaking over the back of the sofa where the unsuspecting woman was sitting.

The screams were really terrifying. He dropped the coffeepot in his haste to get to the next room. She was standing up on the sofa, brandishing a lamp at the six-foot iguana who was arched on its back, glaring at her.

“It’s okay, he’s harmless!” he said at once.

That was when his pet decided to drop his dewlap, hiss and strike at her with his long whiplike tail. She actually sprained her ankle jumping off the sofa. The big iguana was ten years old and he didn’t like people very much. And he really hated women. Hayes had never figured out why. Andy mostly stayed on top of the refrigerator or under the heat lamp atop his enormous cage, and ate the fresh fruit and salad that Hayes fixed for him every day. He never bothered anybody. He seemed to like Hayes’s best friend, Stuart York. He’d even let himself be carried around and petted by total strangers; as long as they were male.