CA 50.7 Little Girl Lost

BOOK: CA 50.7 Little Girl Lost
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
CA 50.7 Little Girl Lost
Colby Agency [50.70]
Debra Webb
A free COLBY AGENCY online novella from DEBRA WEBB and HARLEQUIN EXTRAS (copyright 2012). Can be found at:;jsessionid=D1C02D45FAE89152EF6639443FEF94F3?articleId=1702&chapter=1


Debra Webb

Jenna Thompson is living every mother's nightmare—seven years ago, her daughter was stolen from her own backyard. Despite the time that has passed, Jenna
her child is still alive. Even though all her leads have been dead ends. And even though her husband, Paul, begs her to move on to save their marriage.

But then Jenna is tipped off to a private research organization running an experiment on children. Children around the age her precious Sophie would be now. Paul is suspicious of the entire thing—a mysterious informant, a shady organization, a director with secrets. To him, it sounds like a trap. But to Jenna, it's hope. And for the chance to hold her daughter again, she'll risk it all—her marriage, her reputation and her life.

Chapter One

Wallace Institute, Huntsville, Alabama May 3, 2:38 p.m.

Jenna Thompson stared at the clock on the wall. Thirty-eight minutes she had waited. Every second thickened with mounting uncertainty. And the need for a cigarette. Didn't matter that she hadn't smoked in nearly two months. The craving was a living, breathing demand swelling inside her.

She got up, hiked the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder. Sitting in that infinitely uncomfortable plastic chair a minute longer was out of the question. Standing here waiting wasn't doable either, so she paced the sterile lobby, her steps stiff with the rising tension.

What was going on here? This wasn't the sort of place where one expected to have to wait. The institute reeked of wealth and power. Only a dozen students were in residence; each one hand-chosen by a panel of brilliant forward-thinkers.

Fury burned in her brain and in her belly.
Don't think about it, Jen. Focus on the task at hand.
She couldn't screw up.

She'd had an appointment at two o'clock for the final test that stood between her and the first step of her plan. Had the administrator figured out the truth?

Had Jenna so carefully laid the foundation for this deception only to get caught now?

At this pivotal moment?

Or had something happened here.. .to one of the students?

Fear twisted more tightly inside her, followed by a shudder that shook her whole body. Nothing had happened. She was freaking out for no reason. Certainly her appointment would have been cancelled if anything had occurred.

There was always the chance that waiting was another test.

Truth was, this place gave her the creeps. On this floor there was no phone in the small waiting area. No receptionist. No windows. Just white walls and unpleasant chairs standing in formation on the white tile floors. Even the two doors didn't offer a chance at escape. One opened to a small corridor, where an elevator and a stairwell provided access up to the next floor or down to the main lobby and the institute's check-in station. The other door with its secured access panel stood between her and where she wanted to go.

But what if she was wrong? What if she'd made another mistake? More of that fear started to quake inside her.

What had she been thinking starting this thing? If she was wrong again. if she went a little over the edge, she'd end up back in that private sanitarium, where they had filled her veins with medications and forced her to forget for two solid weeks. A place not unlike this one, perhaps.

She could never forget for long.

Second thoughts raced around and around, plowing into her reflections, stirring up her fears, threatening to crash her composure. Mistake or not, there was no going back now. It was too late. She paused in her pacing, closed her eyes and massaged her aching neck. Hours and hours of poring over newspapers and the internet these past few weeks had given her permanent whiplash.

Seven years was a long time. According to those around her she had lived every single one of those years in the deepest depths of denial. Her inability to face the truth had stolen her life and devastated anyone she cared about—especially
But she couldn't allow herself to be distracted, even if her plan—this whole thing—was far-fetched.

If the authorities, from local law enforcement all the way up to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security, hadn't been able to find the truth, how the hell did she think she could?

Maybe her mother's brain wasn't the only one rotted by alcohol. Jenna had given that up, too.. .just a month ago, but who was counting? It was nothing but time, and according to everyone else she'd wasted plenty already. Besides, she couldn't possibly have given up smoking and drinking simultaneously. She regretted her detour into those particular bad habits but, at the time, the diversions had seemed necessary.

Giving herself grace, she had dredged up the fortitude to quit one and then the other just as she'd managed to never give up her quest. That was more than she could say for the people who supposedly cared about her.

The idea that
had stopped believing hurt more than all the others who'd done the same put together.

She would show all of them. Refusing to give up had paid off. A sense of giddiness flitted along every nerve ending. The truth was very close. She could feel it. This time, she wasn't wrong.

"Miss Thomas."

At first Jenna didn't acknowledge the greeting. It still took her by surprise when anyone referred to her by that name. Jane Thomas. For this, she was Jane Thomas. A whole new identity was required. Shoring up her determination, she turned to find the facility's administrator waiting, the door she needed to get past open, inviting her to the other side.. .to her. Jenna's heart fluttered and her stomach did one of those crazy flip -flops.

She was here. This time was different from all the other failed attempts.

Jenna produced a smile that was as counterfeit as the story she'd given the man who was now gifting her with the opportunity for which she had waited six long weeks. "I was beginning to think I'd gotten the time wrong, Dr. Hancock.”

Inside, she cringed at the lame response. God, she was tired. And desperate for the truth and for things forbidden to her. Like booze and smokes and him—the man she'd once trusted and loved with all her heart. The same one who'd turned his back on her and this search.

"We had an unexpected staff meeting. I apologize for the delay, Miss Thomas. Follow me, please."

"Thank you." A new kind of anticipation fired through her. The moment she had waited for was at hand. But what if the unexpected staff meeting was about her? What if they were on to her and.?

Stop, Jenna. Just stop.

A smile that hurt her heart tugged at her lips. She sounded like him. Some tiny part of her wondered where he was today. She hadn't seen or spoken to him in nearly a year. Not since the last time.

Focus, Jenna. You have to focus.

Settling her attention on the man in front of her, she considered what she had learned about him and this secretive institute. Dr. Stuart Hancock was well north of retirement age and ruled this facility as if it were his kingdom and the residents his subjects. There was nothing about his frame or face that could be called powerful or distinguished. He looked like someone's chubby uncle or older brother. A round, jolly sort of fellow who dressed up like Santa Claus each year to entertain the kiddies.

Except there was nothing soft or jovial about the man, according to Reginald Waters, the person who had given her hope and, more importantly, help. Hancock was reportedly stern and stubborn, especially when it came to protecting those under his dominion. Jenna had learned a great deal from Waters. She hoped she could trust what he'd shared with her. And though Hancock might not be the monster who stole Jenna's life all those years ago, he was the gatekeeper now. He had been for several years. The idea tore at her soul. All these years and she hadn't known.

She drew in a steadying breath and directed her interest to her surroundings. All she had to do was get this job and she was in. If she proved herself worthy and gained Hancock's trust, she would have full access.

Like the waiting room, the corridor beyond the secured door was a blank slate of white walls, ceiling and floor. At the far end another security access area waited. A blue-uniformed guard stood by. He nodded to the administrator, pressed the necessary button, and the bulletproof glass wall parted, allowing passage.

"You'll need to leave your personal belongings here," Hancock said.

"Of course.” Jenna handed her purse to the guard. She raised her arms while he moved the security wand over her body. Prepared for this step, she'd worn no earrings or jewelry, not even a watch. Not that time really mattered much to her anymore.

The guard nodded to the administrator and Jenna followed Dr. Hancock beyond the final security point, where the corridor widened then divided to detour around the attendants' desk. A hush teeming with secrets permeated the air on this floor. The students resided in small private rooms designed for their own protection.

It wasn't that a single resident of this facility was dangerous in a sinister way. Not at all. But the residents were unpredictable. An explosion of violence could follow too much of the most ordinary stimuli. At least that was what she'd been told, and she had corroborated the information as best she could with research of her own.

Hancock acknowledged the attendants—some teachers, some nurses—on duty. Each eyed Jenna as she breached their territory. Based on what Hancock had told her, she would be the first new hire at this facility in half a decade. Guess that made her special.

One thing was certain: it made her lucky as hell.

But then, she'd had help. Another secret that had to be kept.

Outside a door marked
Classroom One,
Hancock paused.

"This is one of six classrooms. At this time in the afternoon, students are encouraged to let their imaginations guide them. As you can see, some read while others draw. We've decided to expand our curriculum and include a more structured fine arts endeavor."

Her knees shaking, Jenna managed a nod. For the first time she dared to allow her gaze to rove over the wall of windows that separated the classroom from the corridor. Books lined the walls except for one end where the shelves were stocked with games and drawing supplies. In the center of the room a long table flanked by chairs held court. At the table, students, heads bowed, focused on their choice of entertainment.

Jenna's barely restrained interest settled lastly on the girl at one end of the table. Her breath caught before she could stop it. It would have been impossible for Hancock to miss the sound. A new kind of fear mushroomed in her chest.

"That one is a very special little girl," Hancock noted, his attention settling on the darkhaired child as well. "Her name is Diamond. If she responds to you, all the others will follow suit."

Nerves jangling, Jenna nodded her understanding. She felt certain she should say something brilliant, but for the life of her she couldn't summon a word.

"I have reservations about your ability to fit in here, Miss Thomas.” Hancock scrutinized her. "Ultimately, it's not me you need to impress. The Wallace Institute exists for these students. If they accept you, then the job is yours."

Her heart pounding, Jenna managed a stiff smile.
Don't blow it. Stay cool.
"I understand." Reading him was easy now. He wanted her to see that he wasn't happy about how she got a foot in the door. There was a smug arrogance about his expression. He expected her to fail; maybe he even wanted her to. Then he would have the last laugh. His attitude wasn't really surprising. No one liked it when someone higher up on the food chain got involved with personnel matters.

"Five minutes, Miss Thomas. That's all the time I can give you to prove yourself." He gestured to the plaque on the wall by the door that reminded those who entered that the room was monitored by security. "I'll be watching from right here so the children don't see me watching and become agitated. These students are very special and they are our responsibility. There are some who don't agree with what we do and would want to thwart our program."

She was the last person on the planet he should worry about. She wouldn't do anything that might hurt or upset a child.

As if he'd read her thoughts, he added, "Even the most careful background check can sometimes fail. Friends often see what they want to see."

"Believe me, Dr. Hancock, these children have nothing to fear from me. As you say, they're very special. The Wallace Institute's program is one of a kind. You can count on me."
At least until I have what I need.

BOOK: CA 50.7 Little Girl Lost
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Folly Du Jour by Barbara Cleverly
A Shadow Flame (Book 7) by Jordan Baker
An Early Grave by Robert McCracken
Hailey's War by Jodi Compton
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Desired (Restless Nights) by Brenton, Mila Elizabeth