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Authors: Lynette Eason

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BOOK: Her Stolen Past
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NINETEEN

S
onya dropped to her knees beside Max, who lay facedown. He groaned and tried to roll, then dropped back to the floor. “Max!”

A hard grip on her upper arm yanked her to her feet. The gun in her face sent terror racing through her. She lifted her eyes to the man behind the weapon and gasped.

Don Bradley.

“What are you doing?” Sonya cried.

“Taking care of things.” He turned to his wife.

The woman stood pale and shaking, her brown eyes wide, blank.

Shock.

“Get in the car.” Don shoved her toward the door and Sonya almost tripped over Max.

“What about Max?”

Another hard shove in the small of her back sent her stumbling toward the door. “Hopefully, he’ll die where he is.” He aimed the weapon at Max. “Another bullet ought to take care of that.”

Sonya whirled and hurled herself at him. “No!” She slammed into the arm that held the gun and Don went to his knees as he lost his grip. The weapon skittered across the hardwood floor and hit the edge of the brick fireplace.

Sonya dived for the gun. “Ann, run!”

A hard grip wrapped around her ankle and yanked. She lost her balance and rolled. Don regained his footing, grabbed the gun, aimed it at her and pulled the trigger.

The loud crack echoed. Sonya felt the bullet whiz past her face and froze. Don approached and shoved her up against the wall, fingers wrapped around her throat. “Get. In. The. Car.”

Stars whirled in front of her eyes and darkness flirted at the edges of her mind.

Then she was free and gasping in air. Her already bruised throat throbbed in time to her heartbeat. His fingers tangled themselves in her hair as he dragged her to the door.

Ann still stood staring, eyes wide and blank.

Don shoved with the gun. “Get in the car, Ann. The backseat. I’m going to take care of this.”

Ann walked out the door.

Pain ratcheted through her head, her throat, her neck. Everywhere. He pulled and she had no choice but to follow. Within seconds, Ann slipped into the backseat and Don opened the driver’s door. “Crawl over.”

The black BMW was large and roomy, and Sonya had no trouble slipping into the front passenger seat. All the while aware of the gun pointed at her. She glanced in the rearview mirror, the side mirror. Where was Brandon?

She looked at the clock. The entire incident in her house had taken less than five minutes.

Don held the gun in his left hand while he started the car with his right. “Just had to butt in,” he muttered. “You just couldn’t leave the past in the past, could you?”

She stared at him. “All I wanted to do was find Heather Bradley.”

“And all I wanted was for her to stay gone.”

* * *

Brandon pulled to the curb behind Max’s car. Sonya’s scream and subsequent click of the phone disconnecting had sent terror shooting through him.

Blue lights at the end of the street flashed the impending arrival of other officers. Brandon reported in his position, knowing the dispatcher would inform the other officers nearby.

Ann Bradley’s vehicle was parked in Sonya’s driveway. Max’s car still sat at the curb. “Why isn’t Max answering his phone?” Hector muttered.

Worry beat at Brandon. He wondered the same thing. Max hadn’t answered his phone for the past seven minutes.

Jordan’s brand-new SUV pulled up the rear.

Brandon climbed from his car and heard Hector’s door slam. He pulled his weapon and held it close as he approached the front door. He rapped his knuckles on the wood.

No answer. “Sonya?”

Jordan motioned he would check the garage.

Hector stayed close. “You think she’s in trouble?”

“She screamed. Then the phone cut off.”

“Could have been a mouse.”

“That would be good news.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so, either.”

Jordan returned. “Garage has a vehicle in it.” Brandon rapped on the door again, then twisted the knob.

Unlocked.

He stepped inside. “Max!” He strode to his friend, the bloodstain on his back sending another bolt of fear through him. “Call for an ambulance.”

Jordan was already on the phone by the time Brandon dropped to his knees to feel for a pulse. Faint, but steady. Relief made him shudder.

Then he spotted a cell phone wedged under the side of Max’s abdomen. He pulled it out and held it up. “It’s Sonya’s,” he told Jordan.

“That’s not good.”

Hector and two uniformed officers returned to the den. “All clear,” Hector said. “How’s he doing?”

“He needs a hospital,” Brandon said.

An officer waved at Brandon. “We just got a 911 call from a neighbor on this street. A Mr. Tobias. Shots heard.”

“Did he see anything?”

“No, said he was in the back of the house and thought it might have been a car backfiring, but then he decided to check it out. By the time he got to the window, he saw a car at the end of the street, but couldn’t make it out.”

Brandon ran a hand through his hair. “How am I supposed to find her?” He paced, thinking.

“Officer? Hey, let me through!”

Brandon turned. “Who are you? Do you know something about what happened?”

“I’m Sonya’s neighbor across the street. Paul Lehman. There was a guy who took Sonya and another woman. He had a gun.”

“You saw him?”

“Yeah. He shoved them in a big black BMW and took off. Sonya was one of those women, but I didn’t recognize the other one.”

That stopped him. “A man?”

“And two women.”

“Sonya dropped her phone, so that’s not going to help us. And you say he had a gun?”

“Yes, but he was trying to hide it. By the time I went to get my own weapon, he was gone.”

“Do you have a weapon on you now?”

“No, I’m not stupid. Once I saw they were gone, I locked it back up.”

Brandon thought of Max. “Whoever he is, he’s definitely not afraid to shoot someone.”

An ambulance screeched to a halt and two paramedics headed for the house, directed by one of the uniformed officers.

“I don’t suppose you got a plate?”

Mr. Lehman grimaced and shook his head “No, sorry. Not all of it, anyway. I think the first letter was an
H.
I couldn’t get close enough to see it by the time he was pulling away.”

Brandon squeezed the man’s shoulder even as his anxiety skyrocketed. “I want to know who was here.”

“We’ll start questioning the other neighbors,” Hector said. “And I’ve already put a BOLO out on a black Beemer.”

“Can we get the helicopter?” Jordan asked.

Brandon pulled his phone out and called Christine, his sergeant. In terse, precise sentences, he filled her in on the situation. “I’m running out of time. He’s got her and another woman, presumed to be Mrs. Bradley, in his car. I don’t have a clue who he is or where he’d take them.”

With only a slight pause, she approved the helicopter request.

All they needed now was to find the black BMW with three people. He started praying.

* * *

Sonya gripped the door handle as Don sped down the highway. In the rearview mirror, Sonya could see Mrs. Bradley slumped in the backseat.

“Why are you doing this?” Sonya whispered.

“I spun some pretty good half-truths and lies to your boyfriend, but it’s only a matter of time before they figure everything out.”

“Figure everything out? What do you mean?” His knuckles whitened on the steering wheel and Sonya moved her fingers to the door lock. “You said you wanted me to stay gone. Do you know who kidnapped me when I was a baby?”

“Yes.”

“Because you set it up?” She took a shot in the dark even as she noticed they were on I-85 and going north.

He flinched and Mrs. Bradley gasped. Sonya took another look in the mirror and noticed the woman sitting upright and paying attention. Some of the shock had worn off and her eyes appeared clear. And narrowed. Sonya didn’t think Don had noticed. He moved into the left lane to pass a slower vehicle. The needle on the speedometer inched up. Suddenly, things started clicking for Sonya as her mind put a few more pieces together. “You killed Ms. Gold, didn’t you?”

“You were going to talk to her.”

“And she’s the only other person who knew the truth.”

“Yes,” he said.

“She took me, didn’t she?”

“I paid her to walk into the nursery and walk out with you. That’s the one thing she managed to do right in this whole thing.”

“Were you blackmailing my mother?”

He snorted. “No. Rebecca was. She’d broken into the lawyer’s office and gotten your mother’s name as the adoptive parents. She figured out that you didn’t know you were adopted and threatened to tell you. From what little I gathered, your mother didn’t want you to know.”

Sonya closed her eyes. Her mother wouldn’t succumb to blackmail. She’d been going to tell her. Sonya now knew exactly why her mother had been so agitated before she’d died.

“What did Ms. Gold hope to get by blackmailing my mother?”

“Money, of course.”

“Why after all this time?”

“I have no idea. I should have killed her long before I did.”

His cold-blooded statement sent chills racing up her back. “I’m still not clear on why you didn’t want me. You adopted me from your sister-in-law. Why would you do that if you only wanted me to disappear?”

“Because my wife insisted. And I had to do whatever it took to keep Ann happy.” He glanced in the rearview mirror. “Right, Ann? Had to keep you happy.” His lip curled, and the disgust Sonya saw on his face made her swallow. “When I paid Rebecca to take you from the nursery, I told her I didn’t care what she did with you, just to get rid of you.”

Sonya flinched. “So she put me up for adoption.”

“No, she sold you to some lawyer who found two people desperate enough for a baby to part with their life savings.”

“My parents,” she whispered.

“Yes.”

Sonya knew why he was being so forthcoming. He wasn’t planning to let her ever repeat this crazy story. Her mind frantically worked, trying to figure out the best way to deal with him while looking for a way to escape.

Keep him talking. Keep him talking.
“Who was the man who tried to kill us? You hired him, right?”

“He was Ann’s personal trainer. He was always looking for a way to make some quick and easy cash.”

Sonya clenched her fingers into fists. “Where are you taking us?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet. Now be quiet and let me think.”

She ignored his order for quiet. “How did you know to come to my house?”

“Ann said she was going to go see you. I followed her. After the phone call with your boyfriend earlier, I could see he was putting it all together. Hopefully, I’ve fed him enough lies that he’ll be confused for a little while. Long enough for me to put a plan together, anyway.”

“You’re going to kill us,” she whispered. “You’re going to kill your wife?”

A strangled sound came from the backseat.

Don shot her a fierce look. “I’m not going to kill my wife.” He glanced in the rearview mirror. “We’re going to take an overseas trip. Finally find a little place in the Caribbean and have a nice quiet life. Doesn’t that sound good, Ann?”

“Yes, dear.” Her monotone voice worried Sonya, but Don didn’t seem to notice. He gave a small satisfied smile.

“But you’re going to kill me,” Sonya stated.

The smile slipped from his face. “Your presence could ruin everything. You simply know too much. Especially now.”

The man wasn’t thinking straight. “I got a phone call before you got there. Brandon told me they suspect that Mrs. Bradley is the one who wants me dead. You don’t think they won’t be looking to talk to her, do you?”

He stilled, a muscle jumping along his jawline. “What makes them think she had anything to do with it?”

“You just told me that the man you hired was her trainer. It didn’t take them long to connect the two.”

“So they figured that out, did they?” he murmured. “That idiot. I told him how to cover his tracks and he ignored me. Just goes to show you that in order to get something done right, you usually have to do it yourself.” He pulled into the back of his office building. “Get out my door. There’s no one down here this time of day. We’re going to use the service elevator and go up to my office.”

Sonya frantically searched for an escape route, a weapon she could use on the way in, anything. The gun pressing into her lower back discouraged her from trying anything immediately. “I can’t believe my own father would do this to me. I’m your blood child. What threat am I to you?”

“Shut up.” He pressed her toward the entrance. Ann hadn’t moved from the backseat. He looked at his wife. “Come on, Ann. I need you to come with me. This will all be over soon enough.”

Without hesitation, Ann climbed from the vehicle and followed them into the building. Confusion swept over Sonya. Why would he bring her here? It seemed like the most obvious place for Brandon to look for her.

Then again, he didn’t yet realize that Don was the one behind everything. “Does your wife know you had an affair with her sister?”

The gun whipped around and caught her on the side of her head. “I said shut up!”

Pain ricocheted through her. A scream escaped and darkness threatened. She fought it off even as her knees buckled and she went to the ground.

When her vision steadied, she saw Ann staring at her husband, her face devoid of color. Don had his attention on her. “It’s not true, Ann. She’s lying. She’ll say anything right now.”

Sonya lurched to her feet and turned to run while he had his eyes and his weapon turned away from her.

She took two steps before a hard hand twisted in the back of her shirt and jerked her to a halt. She barely kept her feet when he yanked her around and shoved her toward the door. She slammed into it and leaned against it, praying she wouldn’t pass out.

She noticed the security camera in the corner of the building and looked straight at it. Don gave a low laugh. “I’ve already thought of that camera, Sonya. It’s no problem to erase the video. Now go.”

TWENTY

H
ector’s phone rang and Brandon shot him a look. His partner answered and listened while Brandon tapped the dashboard, impatience eating through him.

As soon as Hector hung up, Brandon pounced. “What?”

“The chopper spotted a black BMW entering the parking garage where Don Bradley works.”

Brandon blinked. “Don Bradley? What does he have to do with this?”

“Maybe he’s the one who took them?”

“But why?”

“Who knows? Maybe he’s got his own reasons.”

“But would he dare take them to his office? It’s too simple, isn’t it?”

“I’d say we’re going to have to check it out.”

“What if it’s a decoy?” He paused then checked his weapon. “Call for backup to head that way. I have a very bad feeling about this.”

“His business is textiles, right?”

“Yes.”

“If you wanted to get rid of someone without a trace and you owned a textile business, how would you do it?”

Brandon shuddered and a wave of nausea swept over him as he thought. “Textile companies use acid for various things. I’d say there’s probably enough in the building to hide a murder.”

Hector flinched and stepped on the gas. Brandon prayed even as he got on the phone and formulated a plan. He filled his boss in. “I need help here, Christine. I need blueprints of the building. I need a way to clear the building without letting Don know we’re onto him. I need a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator. Send them all and send them fast.”

“They’re on the way.”

“And I am, too.”

* * *

Ignoring the intense throbbing at the base of her skull, Sonya pressed her palm hard against the door. If he was going to kill her, someone was going to find out she’d been here and she was going to leave evidence behind.

Her throat ached at the thought of dying and never knowing if she and Brandon could have had something wonderful. She hated the pain her death would cause him.

But maybe he’d figure it out soon.

She prayed for Max. She prayed for them all.

She’d seen Mr. Lehman looking out his front window. He’d seen her get into the black BMW, and she knew once Max was found, a full-on investigation would kick into play.

Once inside the building, Don directed her down a long hall past several other doors. They turned, right, then left, and by the time he finally stopped and let go of her hair, she knew she’d have a hard time finding her way back should she manage to get away from him. He gave her another hard shove toward a door marked with a hazardous symbol. “Step to the side.”

“What are you doing, Don?” Mrs. Bradley finally spoke, coming out of her shocked stupor.

Don jumped and stared at her as though he’d forgotten all about her. Sonya’s nerves twitched and she shifted. The weapon swung back to her even as he addressed his wife. “I have to take care of things.” He handed her his keys. “I want you to go up to my office and wait for me.”

She ignored the keys. “Take care of what? What about Sonya? Why does she think you’re going to kill her?”

“I’m not going to kill her,” he soothed her. “Sonya and I have business to take care of. Then we’ll join you.”

“What kind of business? Why do you have a gun? You shot that man at Sonya’s house. Why?”

“Will you stop asking questions and do what I asked you to do?” His shout echoed through the area. His wife flinched and narrowed her eyes.

Then her shoulders slumped and she turned without another word.

“No, wait!” Sonya cried. “You can’t do this!”

Ann paused, but didn’t turn.

Don ignored her and simply reached over to punch in the code to the room. The door opened.

He shoved the gun into her rib and moved her inside.

Sonya frantically scrambled for an escape plan. Ann followed her inside.

“What are you doing? I told you to go upstairs.” Ann stared at him. Don shook his head. “Fine. Fine. I’ll just have to deal with you, too.”

She didn’t offer a response, but didn’t leave, either.

Don moved behind his desk and picked up a key. “Now, it’s time to end this once and for all.”

“What are you going to do? If you’re going to shoot me, shoot me!” Sonya knew at such close range, her chances of ducking were slim, but if he started shooting, maybe the noise would bring someone running.

“Shoot you? Of course not.”

She stared at the gun and wondered if he’d lost his mind. “Then what?” she whispered. Why had he brought her here if he didn’t plan to kill her? Confusion swept through her.

“You’ll see. And I promise, it’s relatively painless.”

* * *

Brandon and Hector arrived at the parking garage only seconds ahead of the other officers. “There’s the black BMW.”

“You think it’s his?”

“No idea.” Brandon walked over to the vehicle and placed a palm on the hood. “It’s hot. Hasn’t been here long.”

“First letter on the license plate is an
H.
Let’s get a search going. We’ll have to lock down the building. No one in or out.”

Brandon nodded, his brain spinning, fear for Sonya wanting to short-circuit his thoughts. When Hector finished giving orders and putting the plan into motion, Brandon eyed the door with the combination code. “He wouldn’t take them through the building, where anyone would see them.”

“The basement?”

“Where does that door go?”

Hector tapped a few keys on his phone. “I had the blueprints emailed to me.” More tapping. “Looks like it does go into an area that’s sealed off. A hazardous area.”

“That’s where we need to go. I need the code. Who would have it?” he muttered. Then looked up. “The security officer. Where is he?”

Within seconds, they had the man at the door, punching in the code.

* * *

Sonya kept her fear under control. Barely. Mrs. Bradley had once again lapsed into a catatonic state. She’d backed up to the wall and slid down to sit on the floor. Now she stared, a blank, empty stare that said she’d suffered too much and had mentally checked out.

Sonya felt horrible at having exposed Don’s affair with his sister-in-law in such a blunt way, but she’d been desperate and hoped the knowledge would spur the woman into helping her.

Instead it had sent her into a place in her mind that Sonya wasn’t sure she’d ever come back from.

Don kept the weapon on her. The room they’d entered had a sign on the door that read Authorized Personnel Only. He shoved her toward one of the two matching steel chairs. “Sit down.” She sat. With the gun still trained on her, he glanced into the other room toward his wife. “Ann!” The woman didn’t move. Didn’t blink. With a curse, he shook his head. “She’s always been weak. Weak but loaded.”

“So you married her for her money?”

“Of course not. I loved Ann. I would have done anything for her. But when she couldn’t have children, she changed.”

“So why not just leave her? Why kidnap the only child she’d ever have and send her deeper into depression?”

“Because the child was mine. And her sister’s. And if her sister ever said a word, I was done.” His steady hand never wavered and the gun never moved from her as he backed toward a file cabinet and opened the second drawer with his free hand. “You see, I signed a prenup. If Ann ever decided to divorce me, I would get nothing.”

“And if Miriam ever said anything, Ann would divorce you without hesitation,” she whispered. He blinked but didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. “You killed Miriam, didn’t you?”

Don pulled a large hunting knife from his desk drawer.

Fear crawled through her. “What are you going to do with me?” Relatively painless or not, she wanted to know.

He set the knife on his desk and pulled out a roll of duct tape. Sonya knew he’d just confirmed what she’d known all along. He might not plan to shoot her, but he did plan to get rid of her.

“You don’t have to kill me.” She felt the quiver in her voice, but was glad it didn’t come out in her words. She wanted to be strong. To believe help would come.

But help might be a long way off. She was going to have to rescue herself.
Lord, I need You to help me stay calm and think clearly. But I wouldn’t mind some help if You could please send Brandon. Let him figure out where we are.

“Yes. Yes, I do.” He approached, duct tape in one hand, weapon in the other.

The coldness in his eyes made her shudder. “What does it matter now?” she cried. “You didn’t want Ann finding out that you had the affair with her sister. Well, now she knows. What else is there that you don’t want anyone to find out? What threat am I to you? Let me go and we’ll forget this ever happened.” She cast a glance at the still-open door. Don was either too preoccupied or too cocky to bother with shutting it. Ann hadn’t moved. If she could make it to the outer door, she had a chance.

“Don’t even think about it. I can’t let you go. He’ll find out and I’ll be on the streets.” She almost didn’t catch the low muttered words.

“Who’ll find out?”

“It doesn’t matter now.”

“Who?” she pressed.

“My father-in-law,” he shouted. “The dictator.” He moved toward her with the tape. Sonya stood and whirled to stand behind the chair.

Don stopped and blinked as if he couldn’t believe she’d actually just defied him. The gun lifted. “I was trying to do this the nonmessy way, but—”

Sonya gripped the edges of the chair and in one smooth seamless move lifted it and crashed it into his outstretched arm.

Don screamed and the weapon clattered to the floor.

Sonya bolted through the open door.

His curses behind her filled the air as she ran, not knowing where she was going, but praying it was toward safety.

* * *

“Did you hear that?” Brandon lifted a hand.

“It was faint, but it sounded like someone yelling,” Hector said.

“This way.” Brandon moved down the hall, made a turn and came face-to-face with another hallway that branched off into two directions. He stopped. “Which way? It’s a maze down here.”

Hector glanced at his phone. “The blueprints aren’t much help. Unless we know exactly where they are, I don’t know which direction to take.” He lifted his head. “You hear anything else?”

“No.” Brandon listened. “Wait. Footsteps?”

“Maybe, but from where?”

Brandon shook his head. “I can’t tell.” Frustration filled him. Which way? “We can’t just stand here.” The officers shifted behind him. He turned. “Fan out. Split up. Check every room, every closet. I think we have the element of surprise, so be quiet and be careful. He’s armed. Go.” They went, their footsteps making little sound on the hall tiles. He looked at Hector. “Let me see those blueprints again, will you?”

Hector handed him the phone. Brandon moved his finger across the screen then zoomed in on the area where they now stood. “Okay, there’s a large area. Looks like a warehouse type space. Over here are offices—”

Officers headed back their way, guns held, faces grim. “All clear back this way.”

Brandon handed the phone back to Hector and motioned toward the next hall. “Then we go this way.”

“Stop!”

Brandon froze. “You hear that?”

“Yeah. That way.”

* * *

“I said stop!”

Sonya heard his furious shout as she raced down the hallway, her tennis shoes slapping against the tiles. A glance over her right shoulder sent terror shooting through her. Don followed right behind her, eyes full of fury, burning holes into her back while his right hand gripped the hunting knife. Fear spurred her faster.

She turned a corner, then another. She had no idea where she was. A large door at the end of the hallway beckoned. With an extra burst of speed, she reached it and yanked on the handle.

Locked.

And then he had her.

He wrapped his fingers around her upper arm and glared down at her. “You have to know the code,” he snarled.

Sonya kicked out and caught him in the knee as she spun from his grip. With a howl of pain, he struck out and landed a hard fist against her cheek.

Pain blinded her for a brief moment. Long enough for him to punch in the code and shove her through the door.

She stumbled and fell to the floor. “Leave me alone!” Scents assaulted her. The smell of vinegar nearly overpowered her. Her gaze darted even as her brain processed the new environment. A large open area with a high steel ceiling. Blue barrels filled with whatever chemicals were used in the textile industry.

And no other exit that she could see.

Don yanked her to her feet and pushed her toward a set of steel steps that led to a second floor. A matching steel balcony ran the length of the fifty-yard wall.

He had no weapon but the knife, she realized. He hadn’t taken the time to grab his gun before coming after her. But he was strong. Much stronger than she. And the knife was wicked-looking and sharp.

Her face throbbed. Her head ached and nausea churned in her belly. “Why are you doing this? They’ll find you and figure it out and you’ll go to jail for murder. Stop now and you won’t spend the rest of your life in prison!”

“Shut up!” He gave her another shove. She fell against the step. Pain shot up her shin. He grasped her hair once again and twisted. She cried out and her vision dimmed.

“Move!” She winced at his shout. Dizziness hit her and she fought it off.

Sonya regained her footing and took the stairs slowly, her brain spinning, her body aching. Barrels of acid below, the unknown above. At the top of the stairs, with his hand still gripping her hair, he paused as though to get his bearings. She realized he was undecided about what to do.

The acidic vinegar smell nauseated her, and her head pounded, begging for relief. Tears leaked from her eyes and prayers slipped from her lips.

A sound from below pulled her captor to a halt.

“Sonya!”

Brandon’s frantic cry had never sounded so sweet.

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