Born to be Wild
by Patricia Rosemoor
Isabel Falcon’s nine-year-old daughter has disappeared. There’s no motive. No trace. All that remains is emptiness, and a cold fear that grows with every minute. Filled with terror and panic, Isabel must now rely on the one man she wanted to avoid: Lucy’s father…
Twelve years ago, Micah Wild fell in love with Isabel Falcon – an intense, all-consuming love that was forbidden by both their families. But the generations-old feud between the Falcons and the Wilds would never allow such a marriage, and Micah and Isabel were pulled apart before their daughter was born. Now they are reunited for a single purpose: to find their daughter before the unthinkable happens.
Torn between hurt and betrayal, and the slumbering desire that once burned hot in their blood, Isabel and Micah must find the one thing that could bring their family together… or be lost to each other forever.
Praise for Born to be Wild:
“A page turner!” – Rebecca York, NTYT Bestselling Author
© 2012 Patricia Rosemoor
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Tearing her gaze from the dash clock back to the road, Isabel Falcon raced home from a boring photo shoot that had taken longer than she’d expected. And all for a fluff piece on designer shoes. Though she preferred her tougher assignments like storms and fires and crime scenes, she was the lone female freelance photographer for the Santa Fe Courier, so of course all fluff pieces fell to her.
Too bad four-inch heels weren’t her thing.
Now if they had been boots…
She jammed one of her favorite red napa cowgirl boots to the accelerator and, praying no patrol cop was lying in wait along the route, sped the last half mile to her turnoff. If she hurried, she might be able to get home just as Lucy got off the school bus. Thankfully, the rain had stopped an hour before and the spring day had grown pleasant.
She turned onto Canyon Road and had to slow down.
“C’mon, c’mon,” she muttered, more irritated than usual at the traffic along the strip of pricey galleries peppered with fine restaurants.
Isabel wanted her daughter to know she could count on her being there when she got home. Lucy’s life had been thrown into a mess the past month. She didn’t need her routine broken. And she shouldn’t have to question whether or not she could count on her mother—they’d been having enough trouble as it was lately.
Isabel turned off the main road into the quieter neighboring area, part of the Historic Eastside, populated with homes that had been there for more than a century. A half mile in, she spotted the school bus several houses past her own. Lucy must have just been let off.
Not that she saw her daughter as she pulled in front of the neat adobe casita with its stone pathway to the portal—a covered porch that stretched across the front of the house. Lucy must have gone inside already, using the key hidden in a planter in the midst of a half-dozen others.
But when Isabel walked up the still-wet path and got to the front door, it was not only locked, but dead-bolted. Odd. Normally they only used the dead bolt when no one was home or late at night.
“Lucy, honey, where are you?” she called the moment she got inside. “Sorry I’m late.”
Isabel still freelanced rather than taking a nine-to-five job so she could always be there to meet the school bus when her daughter alighted. And when she occasionally had to work in the afternoon, her mother would come by to make sure the girl wasn’t alone. Eleven now, Lucy would roll her eyes and say she didn’t need her mother to make her look like a baby by standing out where the other kids could see her. Isabel knew that Lucy needed her more than ever after the terrible traffic accident she’d been in a few months before, because she still had terrifying nightmares that replayed the incident. Remembering the scene of the crash, Isabel had nightmares, too.
“Lucinda Falcon, where are you?”
To honor her daughter’s pride, Isabel had started retreating to the vestibule of their casita to wait for the school bus. And once out of sight of her friends, Lucy always gave her a big hug before going to the kitchen to raid the refrigerator.
Only Isabel had been late.
And Lucy wasn’t home.
Where in the world could she be?
Okay, had Lucy decided to scare her on purpose to show her independence? They’d had a series of arguments over the past few weeks about what Lucy could or could not do. The accident had made not-so-subtle changes in her daughter. There were times when Lucy was moody…or fearful…or defiant. She was getting counseling, but Isabel couldn’t tell whether or not it was working.
Lucy didn’t want to talk about it, not to her.
Sighing, she called her daughter’s best friend, Brittany. Surely Lucy’s best friend would know what she was up to.
“Did Lucy go home with you?” she asked.
“No, Ms. Falcon. I don’t know where she is. She wasn’t on the school bus.”
That gave Isabel a start. “And you didn’t see where she went?”
“I’m sorry. She said she would be a minute, and I was talking to someone. I didn’t even notice she wasn’t on the bus until we were on the road. I thought maybe you stopped by to get her.”
Isabel’s pulse picked up a beat. “Thanks, Brittany.”
Telling herself there was a rational explanation—no need to panic—she next called the school. The woman in the office checked for her, but no one had seen Lucy there since school let out.
Isabel’s chest squeezed tight as it had the day of the accident when, for several minutes, she hadn’t known whether or not her daughter was dead or simply trapped in the overturned bus.
Panic filled her so she couldn’t breathe.
What to do?
She didn’t know.
Micah would know what to do.
As much as she hated to involve Micah Wild in anything that had to do with her, Lucy was his daughter, too. Putting aside her own feelings, she picked up the phone and called him.
Damn cell phones!
Micah Wild could feel his cell vibrating deep in his jeans pocket just as he was about to bring another stray back to the herd. Whoever it was could just cool his heels until he was done here. Working in mud from a hard spring rain was a mess he could have done without.
The vibrating stopped.
Sitting Domingo, a gelding experienced in moving cattle, Micah approached the cow just out of her flight zone but from the side so she could see him and not panic. Though the horse might appear to be low-key to someone else, Domingo was ready to charge the cow, and Micah held him with a firm rein. The horse’s ears stood straight up, and he lifted himself a hand taller as Micah gradually worked him in toward the cow, which was “hiding” in some brush. He kept the horse nice and quiet-like so as not to stress the cow any more than necessary. As expected, she moved away from him—from the held-back aggression of the gelding, really—and started inching toward the herd.
And then the cell vibrated again, startling him.
Micah let go of control for just a hair, but that’s all it took for Domingo to take advantage. With a rabbit-like bounce, the gelding took off after the recalcitrant cow, kicking up mud. Suddenly Micah had a herd of complaining cattle running as if a predator were after them. Though within seconds he regained control and slowed Domingo, that wasn’t fast enough to stop the panic. Mud spewed everywhere, including on him.
“Hey, what the hell, Micah!” his brother, Seth, yelled.
His men were all scrambling to control the herd now, but even getting in the way didn’t stop the stampede. Heading for the river, the cattle took down the fence and went straight on through, not slowing until they hit the water. By the time the beasts got to the other side, they calmed and started foraging for grass.
Micah was already calculating the loss when he pulled the phone from his pocket. One look told him the call had been from Isabel.
His gut twisted just for a minute before he gritted his teeth against the old pain and shoved the damn thing back in his pocket. Better to wait till he got back to the barn. Or to the house.
By then maybe his frustration would ease, and the moment he heard her voice, he wouldn’t bite off her head.
The only one in the house when the telephone rang, Caleb Wild took the call from Isabel, and when he heard what she had to say, for the second time in a few months he thought his old heart might just stop dead right then and there.
He looked around the huge room with a fireplace big enough to roast a cow set in a stone wall. The other walls and high peaked ceiling were wood, and cowhides covered several areas of planked wood underfoot. None of this fake stuff they used nowadays. The century-old house was as strong as his family.
As strong as his family should be, he thought, his gut in a knot.
Lucy…his sweet, innocent great-grandchild was missing.
This never would have happened if not for the feud.
“We’re to blame, Hector. Our fault. Yours and mine,” he muttered.
He found himself talking to Hector a lot these days, something he hadn’t done for more than fifty years—even while Hector was still alive—unless it was in disagreement. The feud had started with them. And now look at the results, all these decades later. The animosity between families had separated two people who’d loved each other, had kept a father from his child except for scheduled visits. A child who should be living on Wild Ranch under the protection of the people whose hearts she filled.
Our fault…our fault…our fault…
His imagination took over for a moment as he thought with horror about the monsters who preyed on innocent children, about the terrible things that could happen to them. That could happen to his precious Lucy.
If they didn’t get her back good as new, he would never forgive himself. Or Hector.
In the meantime, he had to give Micah the bad news. Once the bane of his family, running wilder than any Wild before him, Micah had settled after Isabel had taken him in hand. His grandson had changed because of her, and then had changed again because of losing her. Now Micah was the straight arrow in the family, the respectable and responsible Wild, who rarely smiled and whose only joy in life was his daughter. He didn’t deserve this kind of grief, and it broke Caleb’s heart to have to serve it up to him.
But Wilds didn’t shirk from duty, so Caleb gathered himself together and headed out of the house and into the barn, where he went straight to the tack room. He would ride out and give the news to his grandson face-to-face, like a man. Before he could saddle up, he heard riders coming in. Recognizing his son’s voice—Jonah was grousing about something, as usual—Caleb sighed, put the saddle down and stepped back outside. Normally, seeing Jonah and Micah and Seth—all big, strong men—riding in together gave him a burst of pride. But not today. Father and sons were arguing, and what he had to tell them would only darken their moods further.
A wild whoop from behind them made the men go silent and turn in their saddles.
Then Jonah yelled, “Slow that damn horse before you break your neck, girl!”
Riding a grulla as wild as she was, Zia passed them at breakneck speed and stopped her mount on a dime, right in front of Caleb, where she dismounted, her long, dark hair escaping the braid that hung halfway down her back.
“Grandfather.” Zia stared at him with those odd violet eyes that seemed to glow against her burnished skin. “What is it?”
“Nothin’ good.” He shook his head. Zia’d only been nine when Jonah had brought her to the ranch after her mestizo mother died. Though Jonah had offered, her mother had refused to marry him, choosing instead to remain on the pueblo with their daughter. Zia hadn’t taken to many people outside of the Tres Placitas Pueblo, but she adored Lucy. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
“Sorry about what, Gramps?” Micah asked.
Caleb couldn’t hide his stricken emotions when meeting his grandson’s worried gaze. Micah was a tall man with rugged features in contrast to those same soft violet eyes he shared with his half-sister. Eyes that seemed to register his grandfather’s pain. Frowning, Micah flew off his horse, Seth and their father following suit.
“Dad?” Jonah said quietly. “What’s wrong?”
It was all Caleb could do to keep himself upright and his voice from shaking when he looked Micah straight in the eyes and said, “Isabel called. Lucy’s gone.”
“What do you mean Lucy’s gone?” Micah yelled at Isabel as he whipped out of the driveway. He’d handed Domingo’s reins to Zia and headed straight to his pickup truck. “How can you be sure? Maybe she decided to walk home, or took a detour with some other friend.”
“You call when you know anything!” Gramps yelled after him.
Micah hotfooted the truck toward the main road that would take him straight to Santa Fe.
“You know how responsible Lucy used to be, Micah,” Isabel said. Her voice shook a bit before she got it under control. “She would have called me if she wasn’t going to be on the bus. But since the accident, she’s changed. I’m not sure what she might have gotten herself into.”
The tears beneath Isabel’s defensive answer were magnified by the truck’s speakerphone. Micah’s chest twisted into a tight knot. He’d just been given the news five minutes ago, and he was already in hell with worry. He couldn’t even imagine what Isabel had gone through for the last hour while she’d tried to scare him up. That he’d put off calling her back—and therefore put off finding his daughter—made him sick with guilt.
“Is anyone there with you?”
“No, Mama is out of the country with my stepfather. I didn’t want to call her or Poppi and alarm them if it wasn’t necessary.”
Micah only wished it wasn’t. “I think you need to let them know. Reyna and Cruz, too. They’ll be hurt and angry if you don’t.”
Isabel’s voice caught, but she said, “I’ll let them know right away.”
But Micah wasn’t ready to disconnect. “Did you call the police?”
“Right after I spoke to Caleb.”
“Are they issuing an Amber Alert?”
“Not without confirmation that Lucy was abducted. Someone would have had to have seen it happen, have a description of whoever took her, or at least of the car.”
Isabel was sobbing now, and, despite their having been at odds for so many years, Micah wished he could take her in his arms to comfort her. Not that anything other than seeing Lucy’s shining face would make her feel better.
Finding his little girl was the only thing that would make him feel better, too.
He glanced at the photograph of Isabel and Lucy that he’d hung from his dash. It was clear they were mother and daughter, both with the same mahogany hair and hazel eyes.
They should be with him.
Lucy should be safe.
How had he let things go so wrong?
“What are the police doing to find our daughter?” Micah asked.
“Detective Frank Ochoa has her cell number. I downloaded a special app before I gave her the phone. He can track down her location through the GPS.”
“Great.” If she still had her cell phone on her.
“In the meantime, they have several patrol units out scouring the neighborhood between here and the school. Another unit is at the school. They’re questioning everyone who is still there.”
But how many people would still be around more than an hour after the last bell? The principal. The office staff. A coach or two. Students who’d been in the locker room changing for practice rather than in the schoolyard where they might have seen Lucy.
Despite his skepticism, he said, “Good.” He had to give Isabel hope. “I’m on my way. I should be there in half an hour.”
A little sob and an “Okay,” and she disconnected.
Micah felt as if his heart had been shredded to bits all over again. Isabel never cried. At sixteen, she’d been so damn tough, she’d been able to handle whatever came at her.
Of course, he’d never had anything to do with her or with any of the detested Falcons.
At least not until that fateful day that seemed like just yesterday…
“Yee-haw!” Micah yelled, swatting his horse’s rump with the brim of his hat. “Go, Slade, go!”
Slade’s muscles bunched and Micah lay along the horse’s neck as they raced up Suicide Hill, a half length ahead of his nearest competitor. He was doing a damn fool thing and the old man would threaten to whip the skin off his hide if he knew what they were about, but being eighteen, he was up for any challenge. He would get away with it, too, just as he always did.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another horse’s nose edging closer from behind. Micah dug his heels in Slade’s sides a little sharper. The horse’s neck was already wet with sweat, his breath heaving, steam coming from his nose. Slade responded with a powerful lunge that almost unseated Micah. Laughing, he grabbed onto the thick mane, tightened his thighs around the horse’s barrel and did his damnedest to hang on until they crested the top of the hill in front of his buddies.
“Woo-hoo!” he yelled, straightening in the saddle and bringing Slade to a dead stop.
The Soto brothers, Bobby and Hank, caught up to him. Though a few years younger, Hank was nearly as big as Bobby. They had the same blue eyes, olive skin, and ink-black hair. Bobby wore his hair longish, in what was little more than a stub of a ponytail at the back of his neck. He also sported a skull tattoo that peeked out from the neckline of his shirt.
“I won,” Micah informed them. “You each owe me a case of beer!”
“As if we’re old enough to actually buy beer,” Hank groused.
Bobby laughed. “Fake ID, bro.”
Hearing hoofbeats behind him, Micah turned in the saddle to see an incredible sight approach—a mahogany bay that had to be seventeen hands or better. The young woman who had complete control of the horse, despite the fact that she was riding bareback, brought him up short.
“What the hell do you boys think you’re doing?” she demanded.
Hank looked uncomfortable, but Bobby laughed again and asked, “Who wound you up, little girl?”
But damn. Isabel Falcon wasn’t little, Micah thought. Not anymore. She’d grown since he’d last seen her. He couldn’t remember when that was. He’d just graduated from high school and she was going to be a junior, so they hadn’t been in the same classes or anything. Even with her sitting a horse, he could tell her hips had widened. Her breasts had definitely filled out. And with the sun behind her, her hair glowed an incredible halo-red, though it was in fact a dark mahogany, nearly the same shade as her mount’s coat.
“Are you trying to kill your horses or yourselves?” she asked. “There’s a reason this is called Suicide Hill.”
Before Bobby could say anything, Micah asked, “So you’ve never tried besting it?”
“I’m not that stupid.”
Obviously meaning she thought they were.
Bobby edged his horse closer to hers, and in a threatening tone said, “You oughta watch that mouth of yours, Isabel, or maybe I’ll shove something long and hard in it to shut you up.”
Bobby and Hank’s father was a friend of Micah’s father, Jonah, and as such had enthusiastically supported the Wilds in their feud against the Falcons. Bobby was just following suit with Isabel.
About to talk him down, Micah started when, like magic, a knife appeared in Isabel’s hand. “Try it, Bobby, and I’ll cut it off.”
Bobby turned to Micah. “Are we gonna let her threaten us like that?”
“Hey, Bobby, maybe we should get going.” Hank backed his horse away from the confrontation. “Mess with her and we’ll get shit at home.”
But Bobby was paying his brother no mind. “Micah?”
“I think you need to cool down, Bobby.” Bobby might be a buddy of his, if not a close friend, but no way would Micah let him do what he appeared ready to do. Still, he wanted to ease the situation, give Bobby a way out, pride intact. “Isabel’s scared of you and defending herself, is all. Let it go.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“Ours.” Micah was talking to Bobby but watching Isabel. Her anger was palpable but, thankfully, she was keeping her mouth shut. He changed tactics and looked straight into Bobby’s eyes. “You don’t want to get into it with her brother, Cruz, anyway. You touch his sister and he’d split you open and feed you to the coyotes to get rid of the evidence.”
“I’m not afraid of Cruz Falcon.”
Somehow, Micah kept his cool, which he wouldn’t do if Bobby actually tried to carry through with his threat.
“Bobby, c’mon. Leave it.” He kept his voice friendlier than he was feeling now. “Just go on home.”
“Without you? What about the beer Hank and me owe you?”
“Beer?” Isabel echoed. “You’re not even legal, Bobby, and your brother is just a kid, younger than me. What kind of an influence are you on him?”
Micah cringed inside—did Isabel really want to chance raining trouble down on herself?—but kept in bluff mode as he stared Bobby down. “The two of you don’t even have to buy me the beer you owe me if you just leave well enough alone.”
Bobby thought it over for a moment and then said, “Well, as long as there’s something in it for me…”
Taking the easy way out, Bobby shrugged, gave Isabel one last angry look, and to Micah’s relief, rode off.
Hank was right behind him.
“Walk those horses!” Isabel yelled after the boys. “You need to cool them down!”
“I know you’re an expert on horses, and all.” It had been a point of contention between their families that the Falcons ran a horse ranch directly next to the Wilds’ cattle ranch. “But you could stir up Bobby again.”
“I’m not afraid of him.”
For a moment, he almost believed her. Then he caught a glimpse of doubt in her thick-lashed hazel eyes. And her full lower lip trembled before she caught herself and clenched her teeth together. She really was afraid and determined not to let him see it.
“Sure you are,” he said reasonably, “as you should be. You’re just too stubborn to admit it.”
“Am not.” Isabel returned her knife to the sheath attached to her belt. “And you should be walking your horse, too, to cool him down.”
Like he had to be told.
When she turned her gelding, clucked, “C’mon, Crank,” and walked him off, Micah followed on Slade.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
“Making sure you get home safely.” He was almost disappointed when she didn’t argue. For some reason, he enjoyed her prickliness. “At least to the Falcon property line.”
He didn’t dare ride onto Falcon land without expecting some kind of retribution.
They rode in silence together for a few moments, before she said, “You had to work there to call Bobby off. Thanks.”
“No problem.” As an afterthought, he added, “You know I wouldn’t have let him touch you.”
Isabel glanced at him and something in her expression caught and held him. He felt as if a vise were gripping his throat, making it hard to swallow. She was gazing up at him like he was a hero or something. But Micah knew damn well he was nothing but Trouble-with-a-capital-T, as Dad and Gramps kept telling him.
Shaking away the weird feeling, he asked, “You always carry that thing on you?”
“The knife? When I ride out, absolutely.” Then Isabel smiled at him, a smile that showed her perfect white teeth and made his pulse rush a little faster, and said, “After all, I never know when I’ll run into a snake.”