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Authors: Loreth Anne White

A Dark Lure

BOOK: A Dark Lure
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ALSO BY LORETH ANNE WHITE

 

Snowy Creek

The Slow Burn of Silence

 

Sahara Kings

The Sheik’s Command

Sheik’s Revenge

Surgeon Sheik’s Rescue

Guarding the Princess

“Sheik’s Captive,”
in
Desert Knights
with Linda Conrad

 

Wild Country

Manhunter

Cold Case Affair

 

Shadow Soldiers

The Heart of a Mercenary

A Sultan’s Ransom

Rules of Re-Engagement

Seducing the Mercenary

The Heart of a Renegade

 

More by Loreth Anne White

Melting the Ice

Safe Passage

The Sheik Who Loved Me

Breaking Free

Her 24-Hour Protector

The Missing Colton

The Perfect Outsider

“Saving Christmas,”
in the
Covert Christmas
anthology

“Letters to Ellie,”
a novella in the
SEAL of My Dreams
anthology

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Loreth Anne White

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477828731

ISBN-10: 1477828737

 

Cover design by Marc J. Cohen

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014956690

For Tom and Jennifer Cole.
Thank you for so generously sharing your slice of Big Bar paradise with us.

CHAPTER 1

Wednesday. Five days to Thanksgiving.

The library in the East End was quiet. Only 4:00 p.m. and already almost full dark outside, low cloud and a fine Pacific Northwest drizzle cloaking the city, traffic a watery blur behind the rain-streaked windows. He’d crossed the US border into Canada at the Peace Arch around noon, using a NEXUS card.

Now he sat at a computer station at the back of the long room, the bill of his ball cap pulled low over his brow. His clothing was purposefully generic—denim jacket, jeans, work boots. He’d chosen the East End because it was a place of blue collars and transients: street people, the homeless, humans who’d fallen through cracks in society. It was a landscape into which he could blend as effortlessly as a buck melting into a backdrop of dry thicket.

He opened up a social media page and scanned for new posts.

Nothing fresh. Or at least, nothing that interested him.

He clicked open another page, and then another. Still no responses to the posts he’d made from Portland two days ago. Before exiting each social media page he typed this message:

Still searching for my biological parents. I am eleven years old. Female. Born July 17 at Watt Lake, British Columbia . . .

For his own social media profile he’d uploaded a photo of a dark-haired kid that he copied off some mother’s Facebook site. It was the same image he used for all the adoption reunion sites he’d been routinely trawling since his release from an Arizona correctional facility a month ago.

Computer proficiency was something he’d accomplished while doing time for involuntary manslaughter. In prison he’d also learned from an inmate about the proliferation of these adoption search and reunion pages on social media. He’d had no access to the Internet while inside, but upon his release he’d immediately conducted a traditional Internet search for “Sarah Baker.” He’d found not one single online reference to Sarah Baker in the past eight years. Yes, there were others out there with the same name, but no sign of the Sarah he wanted. The countless archived newspaper articles, the feature stories that mentioned her, all seemed to have come to a screeching halt eight years ago. As if her slate had been wiped clean.

As if Sarah Baker had simply ceased to exist.

Or, she’d changed her name, taken on a new identity, was trying to hide.

That was when, on a hunch, he’d turned to the adoption sites.

On these public pages, without oversight or restriction, adopted children of all ages, along with the parents of kids surrendered for adoption, were seeking out and finding estranged biological relatives. He’d read the commentary of experts who claimed that while this new phenomenon was moving families toward more transparency, it also raised new questions. Pitfalls that authorities in the field hadn’t yet figured out how to handle.

For him it was a hunter’s wet dream.

At every opportunity on his way up to the border he’d stopped at libraries and Internet cafés. Casting out his lines. Dangling his lures like delicate dry flies, ever so gently, upon the surfaces of cyber pools and eddies where he felt his prey might be lurking in shadows, holding against the currents. Waiting.

Watching for a
. . .
He stilled as something snared his attention.

Mother looking for eleven-year-old.

Quickly he clicked on the link. Not a match. Wrong birth date. Wrong physical type. He rubbed the whiskers on his jaw—the hair dye irritated his skin. Overall this was a crapshoot. Perhaps she’d already reconnected with the kid. Maybe she didn’t want to know. Maybe she was happily married, had moved on. Or was dead.

But a hunter, a good hunter, possessed patience. He trusted his gut, and he always knew the mind and habits of his prey. Psychological profiling cut two ways. And he knew Sarah Baker.

He’d owned Sarah Baker.

He’d studied her for nine careful months before trapping her.

She’d been fully his for another five and a half months. Until he’d taken a risk born of hubris. A stupid mistake.

Words from his childhood sifted suddenly like smoke through his mind
. . .

The only time you ever take a shot at last light, boy, is if you’re confident it’s going to be a clean kill shot, or you must be prepared to track down your wounded animal through the dark. Alone. You finish that job no matter what, no matter how many days or nights it takes, no matter how hungry or tired you get, you hear me, boy?

He’d prolonged the pleasure of his last spring hunt too long. He’d waited until very last light to take his final kill shot. He’d missed. She’d fired back and wounded him instead. And she’d slipped into the blackness of the forest.

But he felt in his bones that after she’d licked her wounds, Sarah Baker would come looking, if she hadn’t already. Motherhood was a powerful lure. And compassion, curiosity, openness—all her weaknesses. It was how he’d gotten her in the first place.

He opened another page. More messages. All sorts. Mothers, fathers, aunts, brothers, cousins, kids, searching for their castaway blood. Some searches were being conducted on behalf of others. Other times it was for themselves. It bemused him, really, this deep-seated craving in humans for a sense of family, belonging, identity. Roots. Home. To be wanted, needed, to understand why someone might have chosen to toss them aside as babies.

He was about to shut down the last page when a response to his last post suddenly blipped through.

His heart kicked.

I had a daughter born at Watt Lake Community Hospital. She would be turning twelve next summer. Dark hair. Green eyes. A small heart-shaped birthmark behind her left knee. Do you feel this could be you?

The reply came from a user called
FisherGirl. Quickly, he clicked through to FisherGirl’s profile. No photo. Just an image of a trout leaping on the end of a line, droplets glittering in sunshine. No public access to her timeline or other information. But there she was, live, online, right now. He felt the gentle underwater tug, the nibble on his line.

Well, fuck me.

This made sense. Made fucking sense. He’d first discovered Sarah Baker behind the counter of a sporting goods store up in Watt Lake, a store owned by her husband’s family. Sarah had been an expert angler and a hunter, adept at tracking both animal and man. It was her wilderness survival skill set that had really excited him. After the others he’d wanted a real challenge. He’d wanted to up the ante, pique the thrill. He’d gotten what he wanted, and then some.

Gamos,
he whispered to himself. His mother once told him that in the context of hunting, the word
game
was derived from the ancient Greek word
gamos,
meaning a marriage or conjoining of hunter and prey.
And yes, when he hunted, that was the way he craved it—a relationship, an emotional connection with his quarry. Personal. An irrevocable union.

And it’s not a game until both sides know they’re playing . . .

A soft blush of adrenaline heated his blood, and his cock stirred, pressing against his fly in a gentle, pulsing ache.

Calm. Breathe. Don’t jerk the line.
Don’t try and set the hook. This is not a wild, leaping salmon. This is a trout. A delicate, elusive, cold-water fighting fish. Piscivorous, more predatory than most, but you want to let her run, dive deep, think she’s still free . . .

He could almost feel the virtual fly line, wet and spooling from his fingers, hear the whirr of a reel. A connection had been made, a dialogue had begun between him and something wild. Something that could be his—if he played it right.

He typed:

Yes! I do have dark hair and green eyes, and a small birthmark behind my left knee . . .

He waited. The silence in the library swelled and pressed against his ears. A man coughed. A foghorn moaned outside in the mist-choked Burrard.

Then suddenly:

Could you please contact me privately at
[email protected]
?

His mouth went dry. Quickly he opened his anonymous online e-mail account and fired off a message:

How will I know if you’re my mother? Can you send me a picture? Do you still live in Watt Lake? What’s your name? Why did you give your baby away? Who was the father? I’m very excited.

The response was almost instantaneous.

Due to circumstances beyond my control I was forced to surrender my baby in a closed, private adoption, arranged through an agent. I don’t know where my daughter went, and would love to know how she is doing. I now go by the name of Olivia West. I work as a ranch manager and fishing guide at Broken Bar Ranch in the Cariboo. Below is a link to the ranch website. In the staff section you’ll find a photo of me. Do your adoptive parents know you’re searching for your birth parents?

Quickly he clicked on the link provided in the e-mail.

The Broken Bar Ranch website filled the screen. He opened the “About Us” link. Staff photos came up.

He scrolled rapidly, stopped at a photo. Enlarged it. His heart slammed against his ribs. He couldn’t breathe.

It’s her.

Not one shred of a doubt.

Shit
. He went dizzy, almost blinded by a delirious injection of pure, sweet, hot adrenaline. He tried to swallow. Yes, she’d changed. Matured. The lines of her features had grown finer, a little more angular around the chin, the look in her eyes a little cooler, not quite as obviously guileless. But there was no mistaking that thick chestnut hair, the basic oval shape of her face. The full mouth. Those wide-set eyes the color of forest moss. Heat prickled over his skin.

He touched the screen lightly with fingertips. Sarah Baker. His wounded deer. Now calling herself Olivia West. He tried the new name out mentally on his tongue.
Olivia . . .

“Excuse me?”

He freaking jumped out of his skin. His gaze shot up to the source of the interruption. A young woman. Big blue eyes.

“Will you be at this computer station much longer?” she said. “I do have it booked.”

He held her eyes, heart thumping, and slowly he curved his lips into a smile. “Just give me a minute to shut down, okay?”

A blush washed softly up her neck and into her cheeks. And in that moment he knew that while he’d also changed, while prison had aged and worn him lean, driven lines deep into his features, he still had it. That smooth voice. The capacity to charm. To put a seductive lure into his gaze.

“No worries,” she said. “Thank you. I
. . .
I’ll just wait over there.” She seated herself on a chair not far behind him. He felt her presence, possibilities. But he had a target now. A plan was forming.

Maneuvering his shoulder to block the young woman’s sightline, he opened the website’s FAQ page and jotted the lodge directions onto a piece of paper. It was a five- to six-hour drive north, up into the high interior plateau. According to the FAQs, the Broken Bar Ranch was open until the end of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, after which it shut down for winter. He didn’t have much time. The first big snows and freeze would soon be upon the Cariboo region, and he didn’t know if Olivia West would stay.

It struck him suddenly—the irony, the utter perfection of the timing. As if a sign. It was this time of year, almost to the day, that he’d taken her twelve years ago, the Sunday afternoon right before Thanksgiving, on the cusp of the first really big winter snowfall. Like the bears itching to go into hibernation, he’d always been able to scent the coming of the first snowfall. He heard it in the whispering in the trees, saw it in the slant of light, tasted the metallic tinge on the breeze. And he knew, like the bears making for their dens knew, that if he moved right on the edge of the first big storm, the coming snow would blanket and hide his tracks. For the remainder of the winter he’d be safe, holed up where no one could trace him to his lair.

He reread her e-mail, started to type an answer, then hesitated over the blinking cursor. Engage further? No. He had what he needed. Didn’t want to make her suspicious. Let her think the “kid” had spooked and vanished.

He shut down his accounts, exited the web pages, cleared the cache, and left the computer station to the waiting young woman. Tucking the piece of paper with the ranch address into his inside pocket, he pulled up the collar of his denim jacket, pushed open the library door. He stepped out into the cool, misty drizzle on Hastings. Bending his head into the rain, hands in pockets, he joined the throng of commuters spilling out from the buildings and scurrying home for the day.

Fresh purpose fueled his stride as he made for his truck and camper parked two blocks down. It was time to go home—all the way home. Time to finally finish the hunt. After so many years in a tiny prison cell he once again had the wild taste of freedom on his tongue. The mountains and forests, the cool, clear air beckoned.

A memory snaked suddenly through his mind, drawing him back in time.

He’s eleven years old, exhausted from a hunt, sitting on his mother’s lap. She strokes his hair, which is long and unruly, and she’s surrounded by her ubiquitous books. His father sits on the opposite side of the crackling fire, smoking his pipe, watching them both with hard, narrow eyes. His mother’s voice sifts into his consciousness
. . .

Man stands apart from animal, Eugene, my sweet. For man, a hunt is not always about subsistence. Often it’s the pure thrill of the chase that’s the foremost lure. It’s about sensation—that unique combination of anticipation, mental alertness, tension, and physical exertion . . .
Her hand moves slowly down his body to his thigh, and her voice drops to a warm whisper of breath at his ear
. . .
The hunt can be almost mythical in its exhilaration. Delicious . . .
Her fingers brush the inside of his thigh, and his little penis stirs.

His father grunts, lurches up from the chair, and points his pipe at his wife
. . .
Cut the crap, why don’t you? He
lost
the fucking animal—there’s no fucking
thrill
in that!
His father shifts his fierce gaze to his son
. . .

BOOK: A Dark Lure
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