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Authors: Theresa Ragan

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Finding Kate Huntley

BOOK: Finding Kate Huntley
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Finding Kate Huntley

by

Theresa Ragan

Copyright © 2011 by Theresa Ragan

www.theresaragan.com

These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Theresa Ragan.

Beta Readers: Cathy Katz and Janet Katz

Copy Editor: Faith Williams

http://www.theatwatergroup.com

Cover art by Dara England

www.mycoverart.wordpress.com

Acknowledgements

This book is dedicated to Katy Huntley, my best friend since high school. Katy and I have been through many life adventures together. Like the heroine in
Finding Kate Huntley
, Katy is one tough woman. The real Katy is a cancer survivor and a one-of-a-kind friend who I am thankful to have known for all of these years.

I am, as always, forever grateful to Cathy Katz for being such an encouraging force, pushing me onward whenever I needed a shove in the right direction.

This book was written years before the horrific earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Millions of people were affected. My heart goes out to Haitians everywhere.

About the Author

After reading my first romance novel in 1992, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life...write novels...exciting tales of adventure that would provide busy women around the world, a few hours of entertainment. I knew I was truly a writer when I was working full-time while raising four children, and nothing could stop me from getting the words to the page. I hope you enjoy the release of my first romantic suspense,
Finding Kate Huntley
. In 2008,
Finding Kate Huntley
finaled in RWA's Golden Heart competition. Enjoy!

Prologue

Haiti, off the Coast of Le Borgne

Kate awoke with a jolt. Moonlight filtered in through a porthole above her head. The boat lurched.
What was happening?

Her father was an experienced sailor. He seldom set sail at nightfall. She climbed over fallen books and a new metallurgical microscope her father had given her two days ago in celebration of her fifteenth birthday. She pushed the door open and ran through the narrow hallway toward the stairs. “Dad? Where are you?”

The storm her father had mentioned was no longer brewing—it was here, in full force, angry and out of control. With a firm grip on the railing encircling the spiral staircase, she pulled herself up one step at a time until she reached the top. Her heart dropped to her stomach. What was once a sliding glass door was now a gaping hole. Furniture and pictures had disappeared completely, leaving bare walls, broken glass, and debris scattered about the room.

Another swell hit the side of the boat and water gushed inside. The boat rocked like a cradle, forcing her to her knees. Kate crawled across the floor, wood splinters and glass piercing her skin. She held tight to a built-in cabinet and stuck her head through the opening where the door used to be; sails fluttered, snapping in the wind, sounding like dozens of cap guns being shot off at once. Spray and foam hit her face, temporarily blinding her.

And then she spotted a shadow...a man...her father.

Thank God.
His clothes were soaked through, his expression severe as he appeared to do battle with ropes and sails. But then another man stepped into view—a tall stranger. With a raised hand, he moved toward her father.

Pushing herself to her feet, she stepped onto the slippery deck, her gaze on the knife in the man’s hand.

“Dad!” she shouted.

Both men turned her way.

Her father took advantage of the situation and lunged for the assailant, wrestling for possession of the knife. She couldn’t tell who was who, not until the stranger scrambled to his feet and headed her way, leaving her father lying motionless.

Dark clouds rolled overhead. Strong winds whipped hair across her face. Terror held her in place and stopped her from running, her gaze fixated on the snake tattooed across the man’s shoulder, its tail ending somewhere inside his torn shirt. Rooted to the slippery deck, she glanced at her father’s body and willed him to get up.

A loud crack sounded, and she looked up in time to see the mainsail break loose, sweep across the deck, and hit the man square across the chest, throwing him out to sea. It was as if God himself had reached down and slapped the man into oblivion.

“Dad!” she shouted.

Kate ran to him, her feet slipping on the wet deck. Her chin hit the wooden planks. Ignoring the pain, she crawled to his side, relieved to see he was still alive.

“We need to get to the life raft,” he said, his voice raspy and weak.

She helped him to his feet and held him upright. Blood oozed from his side. “You’re hurt.”

“I’m alright. There’s no time. The boat won’t stay afloat much longer.” The lines across his forehead deepened. “When you get to the island you mustn’t tell anyone who you are.”

“But why?”

“Do as I say. Trust no one. On your twelfth birthday,” he hurried on, “I gave you—” He winced in pain.

She didn’t like the way he looked. The anger in his voice told her he was scared. “Dad, what are you saying?”

He urged her back toward the railing. “There isn’t time.”

“We can go to the police,” she said, helping him stay on his feet. “They’ll help us.”

“No,” he said with more urgency than before. “Speak to no one. Do you understand?”

The harshness of his voice and the stern expression on his face told her not to question him again. The spray was intense, hitting her face and making her eyes sting. Pieces of rigging hung from the boat, flapping upward and banging against the side. Her father reached over the railing and yanked loose the life raft. The raft fell to the water. It looked a million miles away. “I can’t do this.”

“My brave little princess,” he said, his voice calm again as he pushed wet strands of hair out of her face. “Your mother was brave and strong, just like you. You can do this. I know you can.”

Before she could ask him how they were going to get into the raft, he jumped over the edge, bringing her with him.

The water was cold. But it was fear that numbed her senses. She wasn’t even sure if her legs were kicking or if her arms were moving, but she knew she was underwater.

And she knew she was going to die.

Instinct and an intense desire to live made her move her arms, working hard to pull herself upward through the ocean’s cold brutal waters. But the attempt felt as useless as trying to breathe underwater. Panic was replaced by an eerie calmness as her body and mind began to succumb to the ocean’s strength. Strange, she thought, how dying didn’t feel like dying. It was much more peaceful than she would have imagined.

Suddenly, strong arms encircled her waist and pushed her upward. Her head popped above the surface. She drew in a shuddering breath of seawater and air, then sputtered and coughed. “Dad,” she called before another wave covered her head, forcing her under.

His hands grasped her waist again, strong and determined, thrusting her up and over the raft’s edge. Her face smacked against the slick rubbery bottom. Her lungs burned with each breath. The raft rolled with the waves, threatening to toss her back in. Her father flung an arm over the edge; his hand grasped for something to hang onto. She clasped her hand around his thick fingers and pulled with every bit of strength she had. But he was weak from loss of blood, and he was heavy.

Wind whipped the waters this way and that, loosening her hold. The harder she pulled, the further he slipped into the black swells until she lost sight of him completely.

She looked at her hands and silently cursed her frailness. Gazing out into the dark waters, she prayed her father would reappear.

But he never did.

Her father was wrong. She wasn’t brave and strong at all. She was a weakling.

Chapter 1

Ten Years later

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Foam and spray cascaded off the mainsail and onto Kate’s face as she shifted the vessel from one tack to the other, nearing the docks of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. The landscape before her was almost completely stripped of trees, but the city sprawled between mountains and water gave it a beauty all its own.

Despite the rowdy street life of Port-au-Prince, Kate was glad to be home, especially after spending the last three days and two nights babysitting a vacationing family of four. How many times had she told her boss’s daughter, Fiona, that she didn’t do overnighters? She didn’t mind taking divers to secluded areas for the day, since they left her alone for the most part and they usually called it quits before dusk. But spending three days with two overly coddled kids and their snooty parents was too much to ask.

She tied the boat to the docks next to the
Paradise
, a sleek cabin cruiser she vowed would be hers someday. Then she headed up the dock and through the waterside slums where children were being washed in ditches and a desperate beggar held out his dark bony fingers.

Kate pulled a piece of dried beef from her pocket and handed it to the man before crossing the main boulevard, dodging more than one of the multi-colored buses called
taptaps
as she went. Despite the oppressing poverty, maybe even because of it, she loved Haiti. Haiti was heavily populated by resilient and determined people...people like her.

“J’aime bien ton derrière.”

She turned and looked from the big hand covering her buttocks to the dark eyes of an unfamiliar face. His thin lips curved upward into a lusty sneer, “Belle fille.”

She grabbed hold of his arm and twisted it behind his back. “Don’t ever touch a woman unless she asks you to, got it?”

She tightened her grip.

“Je te comprends,” he ground out.

With a heavy sigh, she let go of his arm and made her way through the front door of Prince Charters, the company owned by Esri Dalton, the woman who had found her ten years ago and took her under her wing. Instead of Esri though, it was Fiona whom she found behind the desk running the shop. Fiona’s parents had both died of AIDS when Fiona was only seven. Fiona and Kate had spent the past ten years helping Esri run her business, though most days it seemed they spent more time bickering than working. They were practically sisters.

“You can’t go around breaking the arm of every man you meet,” Fiona said the moment Kate entered the shop.

“He touched me.”

“If I broke a limb every time a guy touched me,” Fiona told her, “I would have taken out half of Haiti’s population by now.”

Everyone knew what Fiona did at night, which was exactly why deadbeats, like the one Kate had just ran into, hung around the place all day long. Kate held out a hand. “You owe me forty dollars.”

Fiona’s mouth opened in protest.

“Don’t even try to bargain with me this time,” Kate said. “You’re lucky I’m not charging you twice that amount for putting up with those kids. The little boy kicked me when I told him he couldn’t catch a jellyfish. I have bruises.”

Fiona’s dark brown eyes flashed. “They were beautiful children with their golden hair and green eyes. If you didn’t dye your hair so bloody red they could pass as your American cousins.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere. Pay up.”

Fiona made a hissing noise and snatched the money bag from the dusty counter behind her. “Here’s a twenty. I’ll pay you the rest later.”

Kate grabbed the bag out of her hand, pulled out another twenty, and tucked it into her front pocket. “I’ll take it all now, thanks.” She headed for the door. “Tell Esri I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Oh, one more thing,” Fiona said.

Kate sighed. “What?”

“Someone’s looking for you...a man. He said he’d be back in a few minutes.”

Kate frowned. “Did he say what he wanted?”

Fiona shrugged. “Who cares? He was a handsome American...Mel Gibson good looking. He had on a fine suit with a silk tie. And his ass! Il avait un beau cul.”

Kate’s heart raced. Not because the guy had a nice ass, but because a strange man in a suit was looking for her. “Where is he now?”

“I told him you’d be back soon.”

Kate stepped outside. Heat rose from the dusty ground. The air felt thick and suffocating. She needed to hide. Instinct told her to run but logic told her it would only make her stand out if someone was watching. She kept a steady pace and tried to blend in with the crowd. A few blocks up the boulevard, she slipped into a narrow alley. She passed rows of rundown huts with sheet metal for roofs. Like most homes in the area, the huts were without electricity or piped water.

She stopped at the place she’d called home for the past ten years and threw back the dusty flap of cloth that served as a door. The hut was one room, with the bed separated from the rest of the room by a half sheet that hung from the ceiling. Her shoulder knocked into the homemade punching bag, a burlap bag stuffed with rags, which hung from the middle of the room. The bag swung back and forth, making the tin roof creak as she shoved her belongings into a canvas bag. She drew the string tight and looked around to see what else she needed.

She needed to stay focused. But all she could think about was who could be looking for her now after all these years. Images of a snake tattoo blurred her vision. She shook her head to clear her mind. The man. The serpent tattoo. The storm. Her father’s hand in hers before he disappeared forever.
Trust no one
. She rubbed her temple.

Kate stepped outside and looked from one side of the street to the other. Who was looking for her? The only person she’d been in contact with over the past ten years was her father’s good friend, Dr. Forstin. Dr. Forstin had sent her a few dollars but the risk of leaving a trail was too great and so they had agreed to keep their contact to a minimum. According to Dr. Forstin, he and her father were on the brink of finding a cure for AIDS, but there was a missing link. What that link was, Dr. Forstin didn’t know. Kate believed her father had left her with a clue...something she hadn’t figured out yet. Until she did...she couldn’t be found. She wasn’t ready.

As always, the sidewalks were jam packed with would-be guides, street kids, and vendors. The sun’s scorching rays beat down on the dirt roads. Stench hung in the air.

She crossed the main boulevard, maneuvered around an uncovered manhole and rammed squarely into a man’s chest. The smell of his cologne and the feel of his hard body against hers caught her off guard. Beneath a dark jacket he wore a white button-down shirt tucked into a pair of dark slacks. Snug within his waistband was a pistol.

She didn’t look at his face. Instead, she bolted, knocking over a pedestrian in her haste to get away. Damn! Why hadn’t she been paying attention? She’d gotten lackadaisical over the last few years. Dashing across the boulevard, she cut a sharp left into a narrow alley and followed a maze of twists and turns until she came out near the docks.

The sun’s punishing rays pounded against her back. She looked from left to right. The coast was clear. The beat of her heart drummed a little easier as she jogged down the center of the dock and hopped onto the deck of Esri’s sailboat. She reached for the mainsail and heard the click of the handcuffs around her wrist before she saw his face.

“Going somewhere?” a cocky-male voice asked, his breathing labored.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am.” She turned and jammed her knee into his groin.

He cursed and fell to his knees, bringing her halfway to the ground with him. As he groaned in pain, she shoved her free hand into his jacket pocket in search of the keys to the cuffs.

Nothing.

Next, she tried one of his pants’ pockets, but found something else entirely.

“Don’t stop now,” he said.

She wasn’t amused. “Where are the keys?”

He shrugged.

She pulled a leather wallet from a pocket inside his jacket and flipped it open with her free hand. “Ahhh...Jack Coffey, big bad FBI man, huh?”

“That’s right.”

“In case you didn’t know, this isn’t the U.S. I don’t believe you’re in your ‘sphere of influence.’"

He looked surprised, but he didn’t respond.

“Where’s your gun?” she asked next.

“I don’t carry a gun.”

“Liar.”

The corner of his lips curved upward, at least until she shoved her knee into his side.

He grunted.

He was lean, not bulky. Didn’t live in a gym, but he definitely worked out on a regular basis. His face and neck were red from sun exposure, which told her he’d been around these parts for a few days now. He was attractive and under different circumstances, she might have enjoyed showing him around town. “What do you want from me?” she asked him.

“We need your help.”

“Yeah, I bet you do. Where are the keys, Jack?”

“Could you let up a little?”

“Not until you unlock these.” She yanked up on the wrist connected to his.

His teeth clenched. “I left the keys back at my hotel.”

She let out a huff. “You’ve got two seconds to tell me why you’re here.”

“Your father was a scientist—” he said through gritted teeth “—on the verge of creating a vaccination that had the potential to save thousands of lives.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s dead. He can’t help anyone. Now unlock me.”

“I don’t have the keys. I’m just doing my job,” he told her.

“What did they do, send a rookie after me?” She pushed her bangs out of her face. “What does the agency want with me?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

She cocked her head. “I guess I’m not as smart as I look. Talk.”

“You’re the only one who might know what happened to one of the most important scientists of our century. Ten years ago,” he went on, “the world was on the brink of finding a cure for AIDS.” He drew in a breath. “Then you and your father traveled to the Caribbean and never returned. Your boat was found days later...destroyed in one of the worst storms in the Caribbean’s history.”

He attempted to sit up, but she held firm. “It wasn’t long,” he said, “before your father’s body washed ashore. That’s when the agency knew it wasn’t the storm that killed your father. Divers were sent to look for your body, but obviously,” he said as his eyes roamed over her, “nothing turned up.”

“They never found another body?” Kate asked.

“Why?” His eyes narrowed. “Should they have?”

She opted to ignore his question. Her instincts told her he had no intention of doing her harm, so she eased her knee from his side. “Listen, rookie. I don’t know you. I don’t like you, and I don’t want anything to do with you. Once I get these cuffs off, I’m going to let you go and you’re going to pretend you never laid eyes on me.”

“Can’t do. I need you to come back to the States with me.”

“In your dreams, FBI man.” She chuckled as she leaned over him, frisking him from his knees to his ankles. “How did you know it was me?” she asked. “I don’t look anything like the little stringy-haired teenager I once was.”

“Can I sit up?”

She thought about it for a moment before she pulled her knee fully from his side. He sat, she squatted, his right wrist connected to her left wrist.

“I used to work in the Missing Persons Department,” he told her. “I have what they call eidetic memory—clinical term for photographic memory. I’d recognize any face on that list.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you’ve come. Why now?”

“We’ve been looking for a man...a drug lord. We picked up his picture via satellite during a funeral. You happened to be standing in the background when the pictures were snapped. I recognized your face immediately. If you ask me, I’d say you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd.”

“I didn’t ask you. Was my picture made public?”

“No.”

Her gaze focused on a bulge near his left bicep.

He shot her a worried look. “What?”

She pulled off his tie and dragged his jacket halfway off of his left shoulder. Taking a firm hold of the top of his white button-down shirt, she tore it wide open. Buttons popped. Before he could protest, she slid her hand down the sleeve. The keys were duct taped to his arm. “Clever.”

He gave her a wry smile.

She ripped the tape off of his arm.

“Ouch! Have some mercy, will you?”

“Get to your feet,” she said. “Then I’ll unlock the cuffs. After I free myself,” she warned, “I won’t be able to stick around. I have no idea who murdered my father. I can’t help you. Go back to your people and tell them to stop wasting their time...and mine.”

“What about Dr. Forstin?” he asked.

She concentrated on getting to her feet, determined not to look him in the eye. “Never heard of him.”

“Liar.”

They managed to get to their feet at the same time. As far as she was concerned, Jack Coffey didn’t need to know that she had any contact at all with Dr. Forstin.

The handcuffs forced them to stand close, face to face. Uncomfortably close. Goose bumps swam up her spine. As she fidgeted with the lock, her fingers trembled slightly, frustrating her. The fact that she could smell the starch of his shirt and the light earthy scent of his soap wasn’t helping matters. The men she usually hung out with worked outside for a living. Their hands were callused, their hair long and tied back. She’d never been this close to a guy in a suit, a guy who took showers on a regular basis. It was hard to tell how old he was, but with his shirt torn open she couldn’t help but notice that he was well-built, hard in all the right places. Under different circumstances, she might be tempted to run her fingers through his hair and press her lips to his.

He raised a curious brow.

“I’m trying to guess how old my captor is.”

“Thirty-two,” he said. “And I’m not your captor.”

She held up the arm still hooked to his. “I beg to differ. If you weren’t my captor, I wouldn’t be handcuffed to you.”

Unease crept into his mesmerizing blue eyes as if her close proximity made him nervous. She leaned into him, brushing her chest against the thin soft fabric of his shirt. “Or would I?”

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