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Colton Under Fire
Cindy Dees

Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter 1 (#u594723fe-b6f5-5ca4-b88e-ceeb87581e5a)

Her cell phone flashed.

Incoming text for Sloane Colton Durant from Ivan Durant.

She scowled at the screen. Ivan could keep his last name. She would rather go back to being a Colton, even with all of its notorious implications in Roaring Springs.

This isn’t over.

The cell phone flashed another incoming message. Irritated at being disturbed at dinnertime by her ex-husband, she nonetheless touched the screen to see the next message.

She gulped.

I WILL expose what you did and get her back.

A frisson of terror skittered down Sloane’s spine. Her ex, a high-powered corporate attorney, didn’t make threats idly in court and he wasn’t making any now. The custody battle over their daughter had been a bloodbath, and she’d had to resort to blackmailing Ivan with his infidelities and gambling to get him to back off. Her own divorce lawyer had warned her that Ivan probably wasn’t done trying to take Chloe from her.

Sloane’s gaze hardened. Her ex would get custody of Chloe over her dead body. He didn’t care about their daughter at all. Ivan merely saw her as a trophy. The spoils of war.

Sloane winced as two-year-old Chloe let out a piercing squeal, and heads across the dining room turned to glare. It hadn’t been her idea to bring a toddler to a family supper at the upscale Del Aggio steak house at Roaring Springs, or The Lodge, as locals called it. She’d tried to talk her adoptive father, Russ Colton, out of this particular restaurant, but the man was a born-again bull in a china shop.

He didn’t listen to anyone.

“Is Chloe all right?” Sloane’s biological brother, Fox, asked in concern. “She looks flushed.”

“Kids always turn red in the face when they’re winding up for a tactical nuclear meltdown,” she muttered.

“That sounds serious,” Fox responded, eyeing his niece warily.

She and Chloe had spent a few weeks at the Crooked C Ranch while she looked for a permanent place to live. Her adoptive brother, Wyatt Colton, owned the ranch and lived there with his fiancée, Bailey. Fox also had a house on the property and helped manage the spread. They all had a healthy respect for the temper of a tired, hungry two-year-old.

Sloane scooped Chloe out of the wooden high chair, which was probably half the problem. The log contraption might be considered rustic chic, but it looked uncomfortable.

Of course, the other half of the problem was that Little Bug’s bedtime had come and gone, and still, there was no sign of dinner.

“Let’s go for a walk, sweetie, and look at the skiers.”

Chloe felt warm in her arms. And her cheeks were rosier than usual. Poor thing had really had a time of it, getting ripped out of the only home she’d ever known and being dragged to this new town full of strangers who thought they could walk right up to a baby and get in her face or pick her up because they shared the same last name.

Sloane almost hadn’t come back to Roaring Springs, Colorado for that exact same reason. She didn’t need her entire loud, nosy, raucous family getting in her face, either. It had been hard enough getting through the divorce without the interference of the whole Colton clan.

“Mama. Pitty!” Chloe exclaimed, pointing at one of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows on either side of the thirty-foot-tall stone fireplace in the main lodge.

Sloane looked outside at the white stripes of ski runs between stands of fluffy black pines, the slopes bathed in brilliant light for night skiing. Hundreds of skiers dressed in bright colors zigzagged across the snow like a moving dance of jeweled butterflies.

It was pretty. She’d forgotten how much she loved this time of year in Roaring Springs. Ski season was at its peak, The Lodge bursting at the seams with wealthy patrons who’d come in from all over for the world-class ski runs and five-star facilities. She’d missed the laughter and ruddy cheeks, the scent of hot buttered rum, and wood fires burning cheerily. She’d even missed the funny hitch-step rhythm of skiers tromping around The Lodge in their ski boots.

This was why she’d come home with Chloe. To give her daughter stability. Family. A little joy in her life for a change.

From the first moment Sloane had announced her pregnancy to Ivan, he’d been furious about it. Marriage to him had been great provided she gave her undivided attention to him and brought him status and a fat paycheck. But as soon as those were threatened with the imminent arrival of a baby and parenthood, he’d turned on her.

They’d argued constantly through her entire pregnancy. After Chloe had been born, he’d been gone more than he’d been home—betraying his marriage vows and gambling, as it turned out. But when he was home, there’d been only shouting and fuming silences from him.

By the time Chloe was a few months old, she had become withdrawn and silent anytime mercurial Ivan was in the house. It was uncanny how quickly she’d learned to hide from her own father.

But then, Sloane had learned to hide from him as well. His temper was uncertain at best and violent at worst. He’d never struck her or Chloe, but she was certain it was only a matter of time. The morning after he smashed every single piece of her mother’s china—one of the few things she had that had belonged to her—Sloane had filed for divorce. She wasn’t sticking around until she or her daughter got hurt. Or worse.

She shuddered and hugged Chloe tightly. Lord, she’d hoped she was done with that nightmare and never had to deal with Ivan Durant again. But apparently, he wasn’t done torturing her.

Her brain kicked into lawyer gear. She would save his texts. Collect pieces of evidence to build a case against him, and then she would ask for a restraining order. The Colton name should hold a little extra weight in the local court, at any rate. If she had to live with the negative implications of the name, she supposed she should benefit from its power, too.

“I go, Mama,” Chloe declared, pointing again at the ski slopes.

“Would you like to learn how to ski? I can ask about some lessons for you if you’d like.”

Chloe bounced up and down so eagerly that Sloane had trouble hanging on to her. She would take that as a yes. Struck again by how warm Chloe felt, she asked, “Hey, Bug, how’s your tummy feeling?”

“Rumbwy tumbwy.”

Rats. They’d been reading Winnie the Pooh, and Chloe might just be repeating that.

“Do you feel sick?” Sloane asked.

Chloe stuffed her thumb in her mouth and twisted to look out the window, seemingly disinterested in the current discussion. She had mostly given up thumb sucking in Denver. But with the move to Roaring Springs, she’d reverted to the habit. She’d also reverted to bed-wetting and temper tantrums.

Sloane figured Chloe had some pent-up anger to act out and wasn’t too concerned about the regressive behavior. It wasn’t as if she could blame her daughter for it when she had at least as much anger at her ex to work through.

She’d been boxing at a local gym for the past few weeks, and she’d been amazed at how much fury rose up in her belly whenever she envisioned Ivan’s face on a punching bag.

Sloane laid her palm on Chloe’s forehead. The velvet baby skin was burning hot. “I think you’re coming down with something, sweetheart. How about you and I go home and climb into our jammies, have a nice grilled cheese sandwich, and I’ll read you a bedtime story—your choice.”
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