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The Detective’s Undoing

Jill Shalvis

  The Heirs to the Triple M:

  Three foster sisters vow to make their inherited ranch a home.

  There was a dangerous edge to Cade McKnight, one that Delia didn’t understand.

  For all his casual smiles and laughter, there remained a part of him that was always prepared for anything. Maybe it was the bright day, or the isolation, but she thought she saw a surprising depth to him now, and it made her take a good, long look at him.

  He looked back just as steadily, without a hint of discomfort.

  Hurt, she realized, startled. He was hiding a wealth of hurt just beneath his rough surface, and this unexpected side to the man she’d thought of only as a pain in her own rear end was unsettling.

  She looked away first.



  To Megan, warrior princess

  Books by Jill Shalvis

  Silhouette Intimate Moments

  Hiding Out at the Circle C #887

  Long-Lost Mom #905

  *The Rancher’s Surrender #941

  *The Detective’s Undoing #1019


  When pressed for an answer on why she writes romance, Jill Shalvis just smiles and says she didn’t realize there was anything else. She’s written over a dozen novels so far and doesn’t plan on stopping. She lives in California, in a house filled with young children, too many animals and her hero/husband. Jill loves to hear from readers, and can be reached at P.O. Box 3945, Truckee, CA 96160.



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16


  At six years old, Delia Scanlon knew everything she needed to about control.

  Having it was the only way to survive.

  As she hung upside down from a low branch on the tree outside the group home where she lived, her long blond hair swept the grass. Next to her hung her two foster sisters, Zoe and Maddie.

  Actually, Maddie wasn’t hanging; the quiet, sweet little girl was too timid for that. She sat, gripping the branch for all she was worth, very carefully watching the ground beneath her.

  Zoe, who was not quiet or sweet, hung by one leg, calmly inspecting the torn knees of her jeans. Upside down, she popped a huge bubble and casually said, “I’ve got three lollipops under my pillow.”

  Delia’s mouth watered and she went all warm and fuzzy inside. She knew Zoe would share—that’s how it was between them. Maddie and Zoe were more than her foster sisters; they were her life.

  It wasn’t easy being in the group home with too many kids and too few caretakers, but they were fed and clothed and safe. And they had each other. It was enough for Delia, who just wanted to be with Zoe and Maddie. They were family, no matter what everyone told them.

  “When I marry a prince,” she announced, “he’ll take us away on his white horse. We’ll live in a beautiful castle where we can eat all the macaroni and cheese we want.”

  “Will you have horses?” Zoe asked, snapping her gum.

  “Lots. You’ll come?”

  Zoe smiled dreamily. “Yeah.”


  “I go anywhere you go.”

  Delia, with her natural maternal instinct, liked the thought of taking care of her sisters for the rest of her life. “The three of us together.”

  Maddie nodded solemnly.

  Zoe flipped down from the tree and tossed back her hair. “I get to be in charge of the horses.”

  “Sure.” Delia thought horses were dirty and smelled funny, but she wanted Zoe with her, so she’d promise her anything. “What do you want, Maddie?”

  “To be a family,” Maddie said softly, her eyes shining with the dream.

  “Always,” Delia vowed, as if she had the power to make it so. “Always.”

  Content with that, they sat on the grass in the hot Los Angeles sun, holding hands and thinking about their happily-ever-after.

  A thousand miles away on a rugged isolated Idaho ranch, Constance Freeman was searching for her stolen granddaughter. Well not stolen exactly—the law didn’t consider it stealing when the baby’s own father, who had custody rights, had done the taking. But Constance didn’t fool herself; her son had no business with a baby, and her heart ached just thinking about what that poor child might have gone through in the past six long years.

  Her vengeful son hadn’t so much as written, and Constance yearned to know the fate of her own flesh and blood.

  She stared down at a map of the United States, her brow furrowed as she wondered for the thousandth time where they’d gone.

  There was the Triple M ranch, her pride and joy, to run but, in Constance’s mind it had taken a backseat to finding her granddaughter. Everything would take a backseat, until she had the child where she belonged.

  On Triple Mountain.

  Chapter 1

  Twenty years later

  He was stuck.

  Stuck, while the powerful wanderlust within him tore him apart, driving him crazy with the need to roam far and free.

  It wasn’t a physical sort of stuck. He couldn’t imagine anything as simple as that keeping him in one place.

  No, it was a promise that held him, his own promises, no less.

  The woman he’d made the promise to, Constance Freeman, was dead. But to Cade McKnight, a vow of any kind was as good as gold. He’d never broken one before, and he didn’t intend to start now.

  But with all his heart and soul he wanted to be free of the promise.

  It was past midnight, but he’d been unable to sleep. A long hard ride in the saddle hadn’t helped.

  It took only a second to let himself in the huge ranch-style house that would serve as the main lodge when there were guests at the Triple M. There were no guests yet, but four people—three of them his friends and one a complete baffling mystery—owned and operated the place, and lived here.

  They were sleeping now. Grateful for the silence and the time to think and yearn, Cade stood just inside the front door.

  A sound drifted from the sleeping house, from the kitchen. Not a normal sound, but a choked nearly silent whisper.

  Tense, Cade moved lithely through the large living room, coming to a stop just outside the double swinging doors to the kitchen.

  No light was on.

  The Triple M Guest Ranch was a fairly secure place, located in the vast wilds of western Idaho hundreds of miles from the nearest big city. But Cade, who was not a country boy but rather a certified city rat, never took chances.

  Especially when he had friends sleeping upstairs. He cared about those three friends, Zoe, Maddie and Ty—and that one baffling mystery, too—far more than he wanted to.

  Which reminded him of how much he wished he was clutching a one-way ticket out of here. He was chomping at the bit to get moving once more.

  The sound came again.

  Cade shoved his way through the double wooden doors and turned on the overhead light all in one movement.

  Blinking in the sudden light was that one mystery—the cool calm Delia Scanlon.

  She was stunningly, shockingly beautiful. Alabaster skin. Long thick luxurious pale blond hair that fell in waves past her shoulders. Full sensuous lips guaranteed to drive a man wild.

  She stood in front of the opened refrigerator, bathed in the white light of the refrigerator bulb, her l
ush curves not entirely concealed by her surprisingly plain terry-cloth bathrobe.

  Her eyes, the color of a brilliant mountain sky, seared through him.

  They were tear-ravaged.

  He swore, hating the way his heart twisted from just looking at her. He hated having his heart do anything, but to have it feel, and feel so passionately, suitably terrified him so that he stood rock still and offered no comfort. “What are you doing?”

  “Me? Oh, just dancing with the moon.” Turning away, she wiped at the tears he had pretended not to see and she had pretended not to have shed.

  The hunch of her usually ramrod-straight shoulders tore at him and, furious with himself, he turned his back on her. “Dammit, next time flip the light on or something. I thought you were—”

  “What? A burglar out in the middle of nowhere? Get a grip, McKnight.” Her voice, with its low grainy sexy tone of a 1930s movie siren, sounded full of temper.

  That was good, he told himself. Temper was far preferable to tears.

  “Go away,” she said.

  She still hadn’t looked at him, but then again, he wasn’t looking at her, either. He couldn’t.

  If he did, he’d feel that strange inexplicable absolutely unacceptable tug. He didn’t want to believe it was attraction, didn’t want to believe it was anything, so he ignored it.

  So did she.

  It suited them both. Delia was no more country than he was, raised as she’d been in the Los Angeles child-welfare system. He knew this, not because they talked much—by tacit agreement they avoided each other—but because he was the private investigator who’d promised Constance Freeman he’d find her long-lost granddaughter, heir to the Triple M.

  It should have been an easy open-and-shut case. But of course, given his luck of the past few years, it hadn’t been. He’d found an heir all right, three of them. Delia, Maddie and Zoe, all foster sisters, dumped into the system at approximately the same time and age.

  It was his job to narrow the choices down to the correct woman, a feat that had so far escaped him.

  “Stop staring at me,” Delia said.

  He glanced over his shoulder to find her still glaring into the refrigerator. “I’m not even looking at you.”

  “You are so.”

  He smiled then, because they were both obviously tired, cranky and…well, he didn’t want to think about what else they were. Because whatever it was, they were it together and he didn’t want anything to do with it.

  “Why don’t you just leave?” She was again looking into the refrigerator, scowling hard, as if she could find the answers to world peace and hunger, but it was her voice that reached him. She sounded confused and hurt, and he had an insane urge to soothe her.

  “You know I can’t,” he said, wishing yet again that he could.

  She pushed at a jar of mayonnaise and peered behind it, searching. “You’ve proven Zoe isn’t the heir.”

  “Which still leaves you and Maddie.”

  She pulled out an apple and examined it, then rejected it. “Not me. You know it’s not me.”

  “I know no such thing.”

  “My father was a cop.” Her fingers turned white with their death grip on a bottle of soda. “An undercover cop who never knew of my existence, remember? You yourself found this out just last week when you tracked down my so-called birth mother and found out that she was dead.”

  Because he sensed the fragile hold she had on her emotions, he stayed where he was and said quietly, “Yes, I remember.” He also remembered how she’d looked when he’d told her, the shattered emotions that had swum in her expressive eyes when she’d realized her mother was gone forever, the mother who’d left her in a foster home.

  She didn’t look shattered now, but with the tears wiped away, she looked strong. Fiercely independent. And despite himself, admiration filled him for her ability to roll with the punches life had thrown her.

  He, more than anyone, knew exactly how painful those punches could be.

  “And Constance’s no-good jerk of a son was a drifter,” she continued. “Not a cop. So really, I couldn’t be her granddaughter.”

  “I don’t think your mother was real good at truths, Delia,” he said gently.

  That had her snapping her gaze back to his, but when she spoke, it was not with the heat of temper, but with the slow precision that only pain and sorrow could bring. “I’d like to be able to deny that.”

  It was a surprising admission from a woman who’d been very careful to keep herself hidden from him. He understood perfectly, as the attempt was mutual. “I’m on the case until I have answers.”

  She muttered something, but he missed it. When he raised a brow in question, she sighed with exasperation.

  “I said thank you for finding my half brother.”

  Given how she’d ground out each word, especially the “thank you” part, Cade knew how difficult the words had been. For some reason, this lightened his mood, made him want to grin. “I’m sorry…what was that?” He ignored her growl of frustration and cupped a hand to his ear, giving her an innocent smile.

  “Thank you,” she said again through her teeth. Then she swallowed, hard, and all traces of resentment vanished. Her voice and expression softened. “I didn’t even know Jacob existed and I owe you for that. I’m going next week to Los Angeles to meet him for the first time and…”


  “And I’m grateful, okay?”

  She looked close to tears again, which he couldn’t take. Cocking his head, he ran his gaze over the body that could make a grown man beg and gave a wicked smile designed to claw at her temper. “How grateful?” he asked.

  For a second she gaped at him before her composure returned. It was fascinating to watch.

  She was fascinating to watch.

  Without a word, she sauntered past him, chin high, walking regally from the kitchen into the recesses of the dark house.

  Which left him alone.

  That was nothing new. He was always alone.

  Learning to ride. Oh, the joy of it. Not.

  The day stretched out before Delia, glorious and cloud-free. Good thing, too, because though it was only October, they’d been battered by a series of storms, and she was already a little tired of the bone-numbing cold.

  She was also tired of worrying.

  There was so much, she didn’t know where to start. She worried about Maddie and Zoe and how hard they had to work. She worried about her newly found little brother, living far away in Los Angeles with a distant aunt, because no one had known to contact her. She worried about this big bad wilderness she was living in, when all she knew were shopping malls and Thai takeout. She worried about—


  Him. She worried about him.

  Silently cursing her sisters’ good humor—which had included this so-called riding lesson, courtesy of one Cade McKnight—she shifted in her saddle and looked into Cade’s mischievous eyes. As always, her heart skipped a beat, which annoyed her since her heart never skipped a beat over something as simple as a male.

  “You’re not paying attention,” he said. “You’re letting that horse have her way.”

  “I am not.” But good old Betsy betrayed her, bending her long neck down to graze. Delia turned away from Cade’s laughing gaze, trying to no avail to pull on Betsy’s reins.

  The horse continued to graze peacefully.

  “Try harder. With authority.”

  Delia did…and broke a nail. She gritted her teeth and pulled harder.

  Chewing complacently, Betsy twisted her neck and gazed balefully at Delia, but when she finished her mouthful, she didn’t go for more. Instead, she shifted, as if considering taking off for a nice long run.

  Delia’s eyes widened slightly, her only concession to alarm. “Stop,” she demanded of the suddenly restless Betsy, the gentlest horse on the Triple M.

  Cade reached over and stroked Betsy’s nose. “Shh, baby, it’s okay.”

  “I kn
ow I’m okay.” Delia said. “Talk to the horse!”

  “I was.” Cade grinned when Delia made a sound of frustration. “But you’re looking pretty okay, too. Baby.”

  She rolled her eyes and looked away. Anywhere but at Cade.

  They were still on Triple M property, but far enough from the house and barns that the vast land before her felt like another world. The hills were dotted with early frost, and the Salmon River raged more loudly than her thoughts. There wasn’t a freeway, let alone a car, in sight. No smog, no sirens, nothing. And to make it worse, she was sitting on a horse. A horse, for God’s sake.

  She missed her city.

  Cade’s lips curved as he tipped his head, studying her. A lock of wavy dark hair fell into his eyes, eyes that always seemed to see right through her icy calm to the Delia she didn’t want exposed.

  “You’re thinking of your message,” he said.


  “The judge finally reviewed your request for custody of Jacob. You have a hearing set for next month.”

  Her greatest hope and terror all mixed into one. Oh, she definitely wanted Jacob, but what made her think Jacob wanted her?

  Cade was watching her closely now, and she returned his stare with one of her own. He was tall and built like an athlete, with powerful muscles born more from physical labor than any gym. With the sun behind him, every one of those muscles was outlined beneath his dark T-shirt, along with the ones in his long legs, which were encompassed in faded snug denim. And every one of those muscles was tense as he sat in the saddle looking at her. “This is good news, remember?”

  “Of course.”

  He bent closer, peering into her face. “Then where’s the smile?”

  Baring her teeth, she gave the smile her best shot.

  His big body shifted back, but he still watched her with that probing gaze.

  As if he knew.

  She assured herself that her secret fear was safe. No one must know that she was afraid and ashamed that she might be found lacking, not good enough to gain custody of her half brother.