In His Brother's Place Online - Elizabeth Lane

One

Santa Fe, New Mexico

“You’re sure about the boy—and his mother?” Jordan’s grip tightened on the phone.

“You’re the one who has to be sure, Mr. Cooper.” The private investigator’s voice was as flat as a digitized recording. “The packet’s on its way to your ranch by courier—birth certificate, hospital records, the mother’s address and several discreet photos. Once you’ve seen everything, you can draw your own conclusion. If you need follow-up—”

“No, there’ll be nothing else. I’ll transfer your fee as soon as I’ve seen the documents.”

Jordan ended the call with a click. The packet would be arriving from Albuquerque within the hour. If his hunch was right, it would hold enough legal and emotional dynamite to blast his well-ordered world into chaos.

Stepping away from the desk, he stared out the window of his study, which commanded a vista of open ranchland stretching toward the horizon. In the distance, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, rich with autumn color, glimmered in the November sunlight. This was Cooper land, as it had been for more than a hundred years. When his mother died it would pass to him as the sole surviving heir of the family trust. He was the last Cooper heir—or so he’d thought. But if the report confirmed what he suspected...

Jordan turned away from the window, leaving the thought unfinished. It wasn’t too late to back off, he reminded himself. When the packet arrived, he could burn the damned thing unopened or shove it through the shredder. But he’d only be destroying paper. Nothing could erase the memory of Angelina Montoya or change the reality of what she’d done to his family.

Especially now.

Jordan’s eyes shifted toward the far wall, bare except for a group of framed family photos. The largest showed two young men grinning over a stringer of freshly caught rainbow trout. Their features were so nearly identical that a visitor would’ve been hard pressed to tell which was Jordan and which was his twin brother, Justin.

When the picture was taken the two had still been close. Three years later, Justin had fallen for dark-eyed Angie Montoya, hostess in an upscale Mexican restaurant off the Plaza. His determination to marry her had torn the family apart.

Convinced the woman was a gold digger, Jordan and his parents had taken every action they could think of to separate the couple. The resulting schism between the brothers had never had a chance to heal. Rushing home from a ski trip on the eve of Angie’s birthday, Justin had flown his Cirrus SR22 plane into a storm and crashed into a Utah mountain.

Grief had dragged Jordan’s father into an early grave and made a bitter old woman of his mother. As for Angie Montoya, she had simply vanished—until last week when, after nearly four years, Jordan had come across her name. Searching further, he’d found a picture that had him on the phone within the hour with the best private investigator in the state. He’d wanted answers, and now he was about to get them. The report would almost surely confirm what Jordan had suspected.

Angelina Montoya had not only stolen Justin from his family—she had stolen Justin’s son.

Albuquerque

“You’ve been working hard on that picture, Lucas.” Angie swiveled her chair away from the bedroom computer hutch to give her son her full attention. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

Lucas held out the drawing—three lopsided stick figures sketched in crayon on a sheet of copy paper. “It’s our family. This short one is me. This one with long black hair is you.”

“And who’s this, up here at the top?” Anticipating the answer, Angie felt her throat tighten.

“That’s Daddy, up in heaven. He’s looking out for us, just like you said.”

“That’s right. Do you want to put this picture on the fridge to remind us?”

“Okay.” Clutching his masterpiece, the boy scampered down the hall toward the tiny kitchen. Angie gulped back a surge of emotion. It wasn’t easy, living with daily reminders of Justin. But she’d wanted to make sure Lucas didn’t feel fatherless. She kept Justin’s framed portrait at the boy’s bedside and an album of snapshots on the bookshelf, within his reach. His small fingers had worn the pages thin at the corners.

Most of the photos showed Justin and Angie together or Justin alone. There were no pictures of Justin’s family. After the way they’d treated her, she wanted nothing to do with any of them—especially Jordan.

It was Jordan who’d come on her birthday to bring the news of Justin’s death. He hadn’t said much,