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Authors: Mitzi Pool Bridges

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BOOK: Find My Baby
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Aunt Nester looked at her with a puzzled expression on her face. She didn’t understand. She must have presumed Kayla would let her breasts dry up. She was wrong. And Luke? His gaze became wary as a muscle in his jaw clenched.

“How about orange juice?” Aunt Nester finally said, pouring a glass and placing it in front of her.

Kayla’s hand flew to her mouth. Scooting back her chair, she ran from the room.

“Kayla? What’s wrong?” her aunt called out, starting after her.

But Kayla couldn’t answer. The mere smell of orange juice had sent her stomach heaving.

Aunt Nester followed Kayla into the bathroom, then, after she’d vomited, wiped her forehead with a damp cloth. “Better?”

“Yes,” Kayla said, her voice strangled with mortification. “Thank you.”

“Now what brought that on?”

“Can I tell you later?” She looked over her aunt’s shoulder to where the man presumably waited for them. “Please? Just don’t give me orange juice again. Okay?”

“Done,” her aunt said.

The man, Luke Garrett, stood when she came into the kitchen, went to her and took her arm. “Are you sure you’re all right? You look pale.”

She sat at the table, nodded. “I’m fine.” She’d have to pretend. Keep him out of her business. All this lying was unfamiliar to her.

“I hope you can eat. Nester makes the best pancakes in the county.”

Nester chuckled. “You say that so I’ll make them for you.”

“True,” Rosie agreed. “You have him spoiled.”

Kayla did her best to look at them with confidence instead of fear. And hoped Aunt Nester hadn’t told them her story. Forcing herself to act normal, she took a few bites.

When Nester had everyone settled with food and drinks and tea for Kayla, she sat down across from her niece. “Maybe Luke can help you.”

Kayla gave him a quick look. He was solid looking and there was calm concern she hadn’t noticed before in his deep green eyes.

“Luke’s a detective with the Houston Police Department. He’ll convince them you didn’t hurt your baby. He’ll help you find Sam.”

Kayla dropped her cup, pushed back from the table and stood.

Everyone stared.

Kayla glared at her aunt. “A cop? You called a cop?”

She turned and ran out the back door.

Chapter Three

Racing down the sidewalk, Kayla shivered at the sudden blast of cold air. December in Houston could be hot one day and cold the next. This year, a couple of weeks before Christmas, it was almost freezing.

It didn’t matter. She couldn’t go back inside and be taken back to the police. If Luke Garrett had been behind the two-way mirror last night, he knew exactly what she’d told Detective Wagner.

She was worse off now than before she ran to her aunt’s. But oh how she wanted to stay. Aunt Nester cared. Proof of that was in the clothes she’d provided. But Kayla would not go back to the police. She had to find Sam and they weren’t going to help.

No one could stop her; not the police, not the man who’d tried to kill her, and certainly not Luke Garrett.

She didn’t get far.

Luke had sprinted up to her and stopped her by grabbing an arm.

“Let me go!”

As she tried to jerk her arm away, he held firm. Then pointed toward the end of the block. “This neighborhood isn’t safe. See those kids? They act tough by mimicking hoodlums. The least they’ll do is torment you; the worst, hurt you.”

Another failed jerk of her arm. “I can take care of myself.” Truth was, she’d welcome a fight. She wanted to hit someone, wanted to hit Luke, hit the cops, hit the kidnappers.

“The minute you found out I was a cop you ran. Why?”

Words clogged her throat. Could it be that he didn’t know who she was?

He stared down at her with dark, questioning eyes, his grip on her arm loosening.

“Hey, Garrett, need help?” the oldest teen asked as he ambled over. “What’s she done? Gonna arrest her?”

Kayla finally struggled out of Luke’s hold. The kid laughed.

“Not your problem, Joe,” Luke said calmly. “It’s okay guys. The lady wants to go back to her aunt’s, don’t you Kayla?”

“No. That’s not what I want at all.”

Kayla suddenly saw the temper behind the kindness.

“Do we stand out here in the cold, or do we go back inside where it’s nice and warm?” he asked reasonably, his eyes hard with determination.

Kayla
was
cold, could feel the chill seeping into her bones. The only warmth came from where Luke had held her arm.

“Inside,” she muttered.

When they returned to the house, Aunt Nester pulled her into a warm embrace and draped a quilt over her shoulders, while Rosie handed her a cup of tea.

Kayla studied the size of Rosie’s son; his height, broad shoulders and muscled arms. “You can hold me here because you’re stronger than I am,” Kayla said as she stared at him. “But I’m not going to jail.” He’d have to handcuff and drag her.

“Do you belong in jail?” Luke asked. Sitting in the chair next to her, he took a sip of coffee.

“Someone does. But it isn’t me.”

Involuntarily she noticed he had a nice face. Strong. Nice nose and mouth. Intelligent green eyes filled with questions. Too many questions. Her gaze slid to his mother. Luke looked nothing like Rosie.

Obviously, his mother and her aunt trusted him. But could she?

“Why don’t you ladies leave us alone for a few minutes?” Luke suggested.

Nester set a carafe of coffee on the table, sniffed and left the room. Rosie gave her son a long, meaningful look and followed.

When green eyes zeroed in on her Kayla felt her face flush. No doubt about it. Luke Garrett posed a real problem. Realizing her tea had turned cold, she stood, went to the stove. It gave her something to do to avoid the questions in his eyes.

“You’re not going to run out on me again, are you?”

He needn’t worry. She wasn’t up to the challenge of another foot race.

“I won’t run.” She turned to him. “But I won’t go back to the police station either.”

“Oh?”

“Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t do anything.”

“Then why did you run? Why are you afraid of a cop?”

She went to him then, leaned close, and stared coolly into those very green eyes. For a moment, she wavered. Looking into those eyes was like staring into the ocean.

“The cops think I killed my baby.”

Killed her kid?

It wasn’t any kind of answer he’d expected and the thought of this beautiful woman doing something so horrific made his blood run cold. Evidently, she’d been to the police and they’d decided her story had enough holes in it to warrant the accusation. He rubbed a hand over his face, still not sure what he thought. “Sit down. Tell me about it.”

She shook her head. “I have trouble believing it’s not just a nightmare and I’ll wake up. I keep hoping...”

“Until you wake up, talk to me.”
Tell me it’s not as bad as I think.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told the police last night. I was abducted four weeks ago by a man and woman as I took my daily walk. I went into labor that night. After I delivered, the kidnappers locked me in a room and kept Sam from me except for feedings. I escaped last night. But I was too late. Someone had already taken Sam.” Kayla paused at his look of disbelief. “Does that make sense to you? I know it sounds bizarre, but I’m telling the truth. Sam is my baby and I want him back.”

“Sam? They let you name him?”

“I named him when I carried him.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“Days passed. Weeks. I kept track by scratching a mark each day on the boards under the window. There were slits in the boards and I could see the sun rise each morning.”

Luke didn’t say anything so she continued, “Last night was different. They gave me pills at bedtime that I threw up when they left the room. When they came back, I acted as if I was dead to the world. They believed it.”

“Smart,” he muttered.

“They thought I was asleep and cleaned the room. They usually wore hospital masks. The woman was careless. For the first time, I saw her face. And I heard every word they said.”

“Such as?”

So Kayla told him all of it; the conversation between the kidnappers; her escape when they went to clean the bathroom and her headlong flight from a killer who wasn’t afraid to use a gun.

“Damn!” Luke exclaimed. “What can you tell me about him?”

“He was big. When I stopped behind a tree and knocked the gun out of his hand, I saw just how big he was.” She paused. “And he had an accent.”

“Did you recognize it?”

She shook her head.

“Was it Hispanic?”

“I think it was European.”

“Italian? French. Be more specific.”

She rubbed her eyes. “I’m not sure, none of those. Still, I would swear it was European.”

“All of this for your baby?”

“Why else?”

“If you’ve been missing that long, why isn’t there a missing persons report out on you? Why isn’t your picture plastered all over the news? You should be famous by now.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “Like Laci Peterson, you mean? No. I didn’t leave a ripple.”

“What did the police say?”

“Nothing. The woman cop thought I harmed my baby. He’s all I have. He’d been a part of my body for nine months. How could another woman think I hurt him?”

Luke studied her. Were they right? Had Nester’s niece killed her baby? He’d just heard the most outrageous story of his life. But as unbelievable as the story was, Kayla was just as believable. He saw the earnest look in her eyes, the anguish in her demeanor. If it was an act, she was one of the best liars he’d ever met. God knew he’d run into his share of those.

If she were innocent, Kayla Hunter was way out of her league; caught in a web of baby snatching topped with attempted murder. Alone, she didn’t have a chance. She needed all the resources the police and the FBI could muster. Nearly twelve hours had passed. Time was critical.

He cleared his throat. “Do you have a husband?”

“Did. He’s been gone for months.”

“Where did he go?”

“Hell, I’m sure,” she said grimly. “Isn’t that where every man goes who doesn’t want his own child?”

“How did he die?”

She gave him a look that made his stomach clench. The sudden sheen in her eyes told him she hadn’t fully accepted the fact that the baby’s father had rejected both her and her son. “Does it matter? David’s dead. Sam’s alive. And I have to find him.”

“It matters. How did your husband die?”

Kayla took a deep breath. “Car accident. After David left the house in a temper I never saw him alive again.”

It would be easy to check out the story. “Was his name David Hunter?”

“David Sinclair. I didn’t want to keep his name after he died. I didn’t want my child to carry it either. Not after he was so determined...” her voice cracked. She took a breath. “He wanted me to abort my baby.” She paused a minute. “My father ran out on my mother before I was born. I didn’t want his name either. Hunter is my mother’s maiden name.” She paused. “And Aunt Nester’s.”

“Did you take the police to the house where they held you prisoner?”

“The cops who answered the 911 call tried to find it. But couldn’t. I was taken there in a van, escaped in the dark. I ran in the woods with that crazy guy shooting at me until I found a road and a truck driver picked me up. I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t tell the police anything.”

“Do you think you could find it now?”

She twisted her hands in her lap. “I can try.”

Though her eyes pleaded for him to believe her, to help her, he had to get her to headquarters and straighten this out. There was no other choice. Besides, the FBI had to get involved, if they weren’t already.

“Okay.” He straightened. “Let’s find that house.”

She stood, grabbed at the table.

“What’s wrong?” Luke came out of his seat to help her.

“Nothing. Let’s go. Every minute we waste is a minute too long.”

He had to give her credit for determination. If her story was true, she was diving headlong after a kidnapper and murderer. Without a clue to go on, without a direction to take, she intended to ignore the magnitude of the situation and find that baby. Shaking his head at the enormity of the situation, he reminded her of just that.

“I’m not completely naive,” Kayla said. “I know I have nothing to go on except the memory of what the woman who kidnapped me looked like. It doesn’t matter. I’ll take what I’ve got and go from there.”

“Did you give HPD a description? Did they set you in front of a computer until they had a good likeness?”

“They didn’t have to. I sketched her face for them, the guy’s too. I even drew a sketch of Sam.”

His eyebrows lifted.

“I’ve drawn faces as well as landscapes as long as I can remember. Anyway, I doubt they’ll do anything with it since they think I’m the culprit in this. It’s my face on the news, not the kidnappers.”

Ignoring the sarcasm, he called out. “Have you got a pen and paper, Nester?”

“You don’t have to yell,” Nester said from the doorway.

“The two of you shouldn’t be eavesdropping,” Luke said.

“How else can we learn anything?” Rosie exclaimed.

Nester came over and hugged Kayla. “You should have told me.

“I didn’t have time, Aunt Nester. Too much has happened since I got here.”

“That’s true,” Nester agreed.

After a few minutes Kayla handed Luke the sketch. “I’ll never forget her face. I can identify the guy, too.”

She took another piece of paper and sketched again. “This is Sam,” she said handing Luke the drawing. “My beautiful baby.” Her voice broke and she put a hand to her mouth.

It was obvious she was fighting for control. Although Luke tried to harden his heart, tried to put his cop face on, he found it difficult to do.

“I’ll call the FBI myself,” she said suddenly. “Isn’t it their job to look for kidnapped children?”

Maybe he should let her. HPD would find where she was and it would be out of his hands. Instead, he found himself saying, “HPD will call them in, probably already have.”

Nester and Rosie stood behind Luke, staring intently at the drawings. “Doesn’t look like a kidnapper,” Rosie said.

BOOK: Find My Baby
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