Authors: Kylie Brant
Bringing Benjy Home
By Kylie Brant
Published by Kylie Brant
Copyright 2013 by Kylie Brant
Cover art by Middle Child Marketing, LLC
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All characters in this book are fictional.
He found her in a field of wildflowers.
Trey Garrison narrowed his gaze against the glare of the midmorning Arkansas sun. The lone woman sat amid the brilliant blues, reds and golds in the meadow. She had her back to him, and the rich bouquet of color surrounding her provided a vivid backdrop for her hair. The shade was such a startling blond it was obvious even to the most untrained eye that it derived its origin from a bottle.
He left the rented four-wheel-drive on the side of the narrow gravel road and began making his way carefully across the meadow. As he drew closer he was able to see that she was seated on a large rock, scribbling in the notebook she held on her lap.
His approach had been silent, and at the sound of his voice the woman went utterly still. Then she turned toward him, gracefully maintaining her perch. He felt an actual physical jolt when she met his gaze. Her eyes reminded him of the sample of lapis he’d picked up in Afghanistan. They were a startling dark blue, with flecks of gold tracing through them. The golden glints appeared molten in the sunlight, bathing him with heat. The effect was undeniably disquieting. And then she spoke. “What can I do for you?”
Her drawl would enchant some Northerners. There was more than a trace of “y’all” in her words.
Trey’s mouth twisted. That magnolia-and-honey voice was undoubtedly meant to charm. Instead, it seemed another affectation, like the hair color.
Like her so-called gift.
“My name is Trey Garrison. Your grandmother told me where to find you.”
“She did?” Jaida looked him over, ignoring the incongruous sight he made wearing what appeared to be an Italian silk suit and leather shoes in the middle of a meadow in the Arkansas Valley. The initial wariness she’d felt at having her solitude interrupted by a stranger ebbed. If Granny had trusted him enough to send him after her, there was definitely more to the man than met the eye. Although what met the eye was impressive.
He was tall, about a half foot taller than her own five-eight height. His close-cropped hair was as black as a crow’s wing, his eyes a deep forest green. There was a cleft in his chin, which accentuated the determined set of his jaw. He was not from around here, certainly. If she didn’t miss her guess he was big city. In that expensive pin striped suit, he could be a banker or a lawyer. The corners of her mouth tilted. She’d never have Granny Logan’s talent for sizing people up, but even she could tell that this man was neither. “She must have liked your voice.”
His eyes slitted, the dark lashes on the top nearly meeting those on bottom. “Who?”
“Granny. She never would have sent a stranger out here otherwise, unless . . .” She cast a speculative glance at his chin. “She didn’t invite you into the cabin, did she?”
“No,” he replied, his voice clipped. “She did not.”
“Hmm.” Her eyes crinkled with laughter. It was apparent that Trey Garrison was not a man accustomed to being kept waiting outside while he stated his business. “Yep, she must have really liked your voice. So . . .” She shrugged and gave a beguiling smile. “Here I am. Tell me, Trey Garrison, what can I do for you?”
Trey surveyed her for a moment. Her reaction to meeting a stranger out in the middle of nowhere was visibly nonchalant. “Ms. West . . .”
“It’s Jaida,” she informed him, her mouth quirking again mischievously. “I hope you’re not going to expect me to call you ‘Mr. Garrison.’”
His affable smile bespoke a formidable charm. Most people wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t reflected in his eyes. “You’re right, Jaida. Please call me Trey. Do you know why I’m here?”
She closed the notebook she held on her lap and folded her hands neatly on top of it. “Am I supposed to?”
“I thought you might. I thought—” his voice was meaningful “—that was part of your ‘gift.’” He noted with satisfaction that his words had her amusement abruptly fading. Wariness made a belated appearance across her countenance. So, she wasn’t completely without defenses.
Let the games begin.
“You came here to consult a psychic?” she asked disbelievingly.
A slight inclination of his head was her only answer.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Because,” she replied coolly, her gaze clashing with his, “you strike me as an eminently practical man, Trey Garrison. And not a particularly desperate one. A man like you doesn’t come across the country to request the help of a psychic. A man like you,” she added deliberately, “doesn’t believe in them.”
“A man like me,” he repeated in a soft tone, “doesn’t come across the country without a damn good reason.”
“Exactly,” she affirmed, her voice as quiet as his. “So why don’t you tell me what it is?”
He felt the strength of her gaze. It was unwavering, unblinking, and he knew she was searching for something, some clue that would give his motives away. He understood that was how these charlatans worked. They depended more on observation than on any real mystical power. If he’d been so inclined, he could have told her that an attempt to read him would meet with failure.
He wasn’t so inclined.
“I’ve heard you’ve had some success with locating missing persons. I’m hoping you can help me.”
There was something about this man that didn’t ring true. It was more than the mask that he seemed able to draw across his features at will. Jaida had met other people who hid their emotions. Few were able to keep their true feelings from showing in their eyes, though. His were as mysterious, as impenetrable as the forest of their hue.
Baffled, she pushed her hair off one shoulder, an unconscious, nervous gesture. Mixed messages exuded from the man before her, and she found him difficult to appraise. He’d come quite a ways to talk to her, that was clear. It would suggest that he needed her help, that he
But Garrison didn’t really want her assistance; she knew that intuitively. She’d never met anybody so guarded. He was as buttoned up as the cream-colored dress shirt he wore. It was doubtful such a man would share his true reasons with a stranger. With a chill, she recalled another time she’d been sought out by a man whose stated purpose had warred with the speculation in his eyes. He’d turned out to be a reporter, intent on writing an exposé of people claiming psychic abilities. This man seemed infinitely more threatening to her, though she couldn’t yet tell in what way.
The realization infuriated her. “You’re lying.”
Though she couldn’t detect even a flicker of expression, an air of menace seemed to settle over Trey at her words.
“Pardon me?” His words were measured, the tone silky.
Jaida ignored the chill skating over her arms. Her chin jutted out as she continued hotly, “I don’t know what brought you here, Garrison, but I’m not a sideshow freak. Amuse yourself at someone else’s expense.” She scrambled down from the rock.
Her long, gauzy skirt tangled with her legs, sending her off-balance. He stepped forward involuntarily, reaching for her. His movement was sudden, and totally unavoidable. When his hands closed around her waist, a gasp escaped her. Sparks jumped wildly beneath his fingers through her thin blouse. An electric frisson chased down her spine. She was pulling away from him before her toes met the ground. When he let go of her, she put a few more feet between them for good measure. Then she stopped and looked at him, barely disguised panic on her face.
Trey returned her regard assessingly. His hands still tingled from the shocking connection that had leapt between them. It wasn’t based on the physical chemistry of two people attracted to each other. No, he definitely had other things on his mind when it came to Jaida West. And she hadn’t seemed like a woman overcome with sexual awareness, either. She looked almost . . .
“Listen, Miss West . . . Jaida . . .” His voice was soothing. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“You didn’t.” She shook her head fiercely, willing the words to be true. “I was . . . startled.” Her chin came up again then, and she matched him look for look. “You made me angry when you lied to me and I didn’t want you touching me. That’s all.”
“I did not lie to you.” He bit the words out precisely.
She shrugged carelessly. Already the unexpected current of electricity was fading, although the memory of it wasn’t. “Didn’t tell the whole truth, then. My granny always taught me it was the same thing.”
Her drawl was more pronounced now. There was something about listening to the slow, dulcet cadence of her speech that made her insults sound especially provocative. He would have liked to share a few succinct sentences about what he thought of her and her granny, but his usual control exerted itself.
He couldn’t afford to let his distaste for this assignment drive her away. At least not yet. After promising his sister that he would ask for Jaida’s help, he wanted to be able to tell her, with at least some degree of honesty, that he’d done as she’d requested. He didn’t give his word lightly. And there was precious little he wouldn’t do for the only family he had left.
The woman before him looked poised to flee. But he knew how to get what he wanted. He’d cultured the manners, the small talk, all the nuances that would put others at ease. He used his deliberately acquired veneer of civility the way some men wielded a weapon. And got better results with it.
He manufactured a rueful half smile. Jaida stared dumbly for an instant as his whole countenance was transposed. No longer was he the man who had come here intent on his own purposes, who’d caused her nerve endings to riot.
“You’re right, and I apologize,” he said. “I haven’t told you the whole story, but I haven’t really had much of a chance yet.” His gaze was direct. “Can we start again?”
Shaking her head in admiration, Jaida murmured, “You’re good.”
“I said, this better be good.”
Trey studied her silently for a moment before speaking “My sister, Lauren, remembered hearing of you and insisted on asking for your help.”
Jaida looked beyond him, startled. “Your sister is here with you?”
“No.” His voice was terse. “She’s under a doctor’s care. It’s impossible for her to travel at this point. I agreed to approach you on her behalf.”
Jaida’s gaze returned to his. “What kind of help does your sister need?”
“My eighteen-month-old nephew was kidnapped nine days ago.” His bleak words seemed to echo the desolation he’d lived with since Benjy’s disappearance. Benjy had been only minutes old the first time Trey had held his tiny body in his hands. He’d looked down into his nephew’s face, curiously wizened in the manner of newborns, and felt an immediate, irrevocable bond. He’d vowed at that moment to keep Benjy safe from all harm.
Never before had he failed so miserably.
His voice harsh, he added, “The police were called in immediately. A few days later the FBI joined the investigation. But they haven’t turned up any real leads.” And Lauren was growing desperate, he could have added, teetering on the brink of physical and emotional collapse. Until she was willing to clutch at straws to help find him.
Until she was willing to put her faith in any circus swami fake who professed psychic powers.
Jaida studied him, trying to read what he wasn’t saying. That he was here under duress was plausible. That would account for the sense of certainty she’d had that he wasn’t being completely honest at first.
hadn’t been the one to decide to ask for her help. No doubt he’d done his best to talk his sister out of the idea. She felt a grudging respect for the man. She had no doubt that he let few people sway him from his opinion.
“You must love your sister very much.”
“I’d do anything for her,” he said flatly.
She wrapped her arms around her middle. “What’s your nephew’s name?”
Her eyes slid shut. She was prepared for the flood of emotion that filled her at the mention of the lost child’s name. From long practice she didn’t try to suppress it; there would have been no point. The emotions rolled over her, swirling about inside like a dervish. There was nothing from the turbulence within that would be useful yet. She would be unable to pick out any relevant information until she held something of Benjy’s to bring it into focus.
And yet . . . the sensations were clearer, more vivid than usual. That was uncommon.
Her eyes opened to see that Trey had moved to stand before her once again. His face was unreadable. She had a sudden urge to put some distance between them.
He was dangerous
. It was innate, primal instinct rather than psychic ability that told her so. And the memory of the unexpected electric reaction to his touch made her uneasy. She wasn’t reacting normally around him, and she couldn’t trust herself to make a decision in this jittery state.
Jaida turned and started making her way across the field.
“Wait a minute,” he said, a hint of command entering his voice. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the cabin,” her voice filtered back. “I’ll meet you there.”
Trey looked after her in frustration. “Don’t you want a ride?” he called.
She picked up her long skirt in her free hand and started running. Forgetting his impatience for a moment, he watched, bemused, as she dodged patches of dogwood and leaped over a small stream. Her familiarity with the area was apparent. She was as surefooted as the meadow creatures.