Daddy in the Making - By Crystal Green

Chapter One

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Connall Flannigan didn’t answer his brother at first. He just kept staring at the three-story, gray-wooded St. Valentine Hotel with its lacy curtains peeking through the windows.

How many times had he seen flashes of this place in what was left of his memory?

As a few obvious tourists brushed by him, Conn looked down at his hand, where he’d been palming a necklace—golden, shiny, with a pendant in the shape of an R that separated into two pieces that never seemed to fit together. It’d been found in his pocket after the car accident, and he’d come to St. Valentine to find out why it might’ve been significant, and to fill the holes in his memory—the gaping spaces from the amnesia.

Conn wrapped his fingers over the necklace. “I’m not sure about much these days, but this?” He nodded. “I’m sure.”

Emmet, who had the same blue eyes and black hair as Conn did under their cowboy hats, looked wary. “I don’t know what you think you’re gonna find here when the family can tell you everything you need.”

Conn shook his head. What he needed was something to jar his mind back to where it should be—a place where he would be forced to completely remember just what had happened right before the accident and even previous to that.

A place where he could find himself again.

Once more, the flashes came back to him: this hotel. The name “St. Valentine.” A truck bearing down on his pickup just before the world went into a tailspin. And...

He held his breath, waiting for the most puzzling and heart-clutching image of all. A woman. Dark brown hair, curling over her bare shoulders. Gray eyes full of affection as she looked up at him from where she was lying on the bed, her arms reaching up for him...

According to Emmet and his other two older brothers, Conn had enjoyed his share of women in the past. He’d never been the type to settle down, they said. Footloose, fancy-free and raising hell whenever possible. One woman on this livestock trip, another on that one.

Yet here he was, in search of this one woman who’d haunted his thoughts since the accident four months ago, flash by provocative flash.

But if there’d been so many women, why her in particular?

And why did he ache every time he thought of her?

“I just want to see what’s in here,” he said to Emmet, gesturing toward the hotel. “There’s got to be a reason I’m remembering this place more than any other. And a reason I’m recalling...”

“Her,” Emmet said just before he chuffed.

Conn sent a sidelong glance to him.

“I’ve told you,” Emmet said. “She’s just one of many, Conn. Your time would be better spent on the ranch with your family, relaxing, not running off to a little town that you drove through one night.”

“So you’ve told me.” Over and over. Conn’s brothers in particular had been pointedly direct with him about his habits—all the flirting, all the disappointed women he’d left behind. They told him that, even though he’d always made it clear that he wasn’t in anything for the long haul, he’d always managed to make the ladies think that they were the ones, only to break their hearts in the end.

Conn had a hard time imagining he could be that callous, even if he was friendly enough about loving ’em and leaving ’em.

“Well,” Emmet said, planting a booted foot up on the boardwalk. “If that’s how you want to go about this, the sooner you get this done, the sooner we can go back home.”

Conn grabbed onto the image of home, as if he was afraid of losing that, too. Home was the cattle ranch he ran with his brothers about a hundred miles away from St. Valentine, Texas. They told him that he went on business trips, such as for selling and replenishing livestock—the type of trip he’d been on when he’d had the accident. He’d felt a connection to home when he’d returned there, although there’d been something else, as well, along with the comfort, a yen to go somewhere beyond the ranch. And, months later, it’d turned out to be St. Valentine, for whatever reason.

He stepped onto the boardwalk, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair. His heart was beating a mile a minute.

Brown hair...gray eyes...

At the flash that kept coming to him every once in a while, his pulse jerked to a pause before jumping to a start