Read Her Stolen Past Online

Authors: Lynette Eason

Tags: #dpgroup.org, #Fluffer Nutter

Her Stolen Past (4 page)

BOOK: Her Stolen Past
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

FOUR

S
onya gaped. “Well, I guess we’re making someone kind of nervous.”

“You think?” A muscle jumped in his jaw as he stared at the note.

“So what do we do?”

Brandon lifted a brow. “Do you want to stop looking for her?”

“No way.”

“Do you have a paper bag in your car?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“All right, let’s go back in the restaurant and get one.”

Sonya shut her belongings in the car and followed Brandon, who carried the note between his thumb and forefinger. She figured he wanted to get the note tested for fingerprints. She glanced around the parking lot, wondering if the person who’d left the note was watching. Shivers slid up and down her spine.

Spooked, she stayed close to the person who seemed to represent the only security she could find in a world that had shifted on its axis once again. First the death of her father, then her mother and now someone was sending her threats.

She didn’t like it.

Sonya waited by the door while Brandon requested a paper bag. The waitress handed him one and he slipped the note inside and folded the bag over. He held it up. “All right, I’m going to take this over to the lab.”

“Tonight?”

He shrugged. “Why not?”

“But it’s late. You’ve had a full day and need to rest.” She sighed. “And I sound like your mother. I’m going to be quiet now, get in my car and go home.”

His lips pulled into a smile. A smile he seemed to struggle with. Almost as though he didn’t do it very often and his lips had forgotten how. She knew exactly how he felt. Smiling seemed to take more effort than it was worth these days.

“I’ll follow you home before I take this over,” he said. “I have a friend who works the graveyard shift. He’ll probably be able to take care of this pretty quick. Depends on what else he has in the lineup.”

“Okay. Thanks.” She walked to the door and stepped outside. Her eyes immediately scanned the area for any threat. “And I think after today’s craziness, I would appreciate you following me home.” She paused. “And going through my house to make sure no one is inside would be nice, too.”

“My pleasure.”

His hand slipped under her elbow, and warmth danced up her arm. What was it about this man at her side? It was rather crazy the feelings he’d stirred up in her. And the feelings had her curious, too. She’d felt attraction before. Had even dated a doctor at the hospital before she’d moved to South Carolina to be with her mother during those hard final days of her life. So why now? Why would her heart suddenly decide that it was time to be attracted to Brandon, a man so tightly closed emotionally, a crowbar wouldn’t get him to open up?

A hand waved in front of her face. “Where are you?”

Sonya blinked and found herself at her car. “I was lost in thought.”

“I could see that. About what?”

She shrugged. “Everything. How confusing my life has suddenly become.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Brandon said. “I promise.”

She smiled. “I know you’ll try.”

“Well, that smile’s not fake, but it looks a little sad.” He held the door for her while she slipped into the driver’s seat.

“Thanks.”

He closed her door and she waited for him to get into his car. He flashed his lights when he was ready and she pulled from the parking lot.

She kept an eye on her rearview mirror and couldn’t help wondering while Brandon was following her, was someone following him?

* * *

Brandon was concerned. The shooting in the park could have been a random thing. As unfortunate as it was, that kind of thing happened and made the news all the time. Okay, maybe not all the time, but often enough that people were no longer shocked when they saw reports on the news. Saddened, angry and frightened that their world could be such a dangerous place, but not shocked.

But the break-in at his house and the note left on Sonya’s car both pointed to the fact that someone didn’t want them looking for Heather Bradley. That was one fact he had no trouble figuring out.

By the time they pulled into Sonya’s driveway, he’d mapped out his plan of action for the next day.

She pulled into her garage and he met her as she climbed out of her car. “Nice place.”

“Thanks. My mother was originally from South Carolina before she and my father met. Then she went to college in Virginia and my dad swept her off her feet.” She gave a small smile and led him into the house via the back door. “At least that’s her version.”

“Your father had a different one?” He stepped into her kitchen. Cinnamon and another spicy scent hit him and he drew in a deep breath.

“Absolutely. He said Mom swept
him
away.” The fondness in her voice got to him.

He stopped at the table and looked into her eyes. Which made him crave chocolate.

At the same time, a long-rooted bitterness he’d thought he’d managed to suppress rose up strong and hot, taking him by surprise. “My parents never felt that way about each other.”

Something in his tone must have caught her attention. Her gaze sharpened. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I.” Now he wanted the subject dropped. Him and his big mouth. “I don’t know why I told you that. Forget it.” He moved away from her. “Stay here while I check out the house.”

He could tell his abrupt departure confused her but he had to get away. He felt his walls slipping, crumbling before her sweet disposition and compassionate eyes.
She’s a client, Hayes, remember that. You don’t date clients.

With his weapon ready, he checked the den, the three bedrooms and three bathrooms. He opened doors and peered in every potential hiding place, taking note that she kept a clean house. The glass on the nightstand, the T-shirt over the footboard of the bed and the flip-flops tossed into the corner of the room said she wasn’t obsessive about everything being in its place, though. “It’s clear, Sonya,” he said. He returned to the kitchen to find her staring out the window over the sink. “Sonya?”

She jerked and spun, a pretty cat in her arms. She stroked the animal’s head and blinked. “Oh. Sorry. I was lost in thought. Again.”

“It’s okay. I just said your house is clear.”

She let out a relieved breath and set the cat on the floor. “Thank you. Once I lock the door behind you I’ll feel all right.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“That’s Chaucer. He’s a pretty independent little guy, but when I’m gone for a long time, he likes to be held for a few minutes when I first walk in.” The cat sniffed Brandon’s shoes and must have decided he was okay as he rubbed against Brandon’s leg.

Brandon leaned over and scratched the cat’s ears while he debated whether Sonya should feel safe behind her locked doors or not. How serious was the person who’d left the note on her car? Pretty serious if it was the person who’d broken into his house to deliver the same message.

She must have sensed his hesitation. She walked over and patted his arm. “I’ll be fine.”

Brandon still paused, wondering if he should leave. Finally, he said, “All right. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“At five.”

“At five.” Brandon forced himself to walk away and climb into his car. He gave the area one last sweep and didn’t see anything that made his nerves spike into alert mode.

But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

* * *

Sonya twisted the dead bolt. The lock clicked and silence descended. She shuddered as the house took on an ominous feel now that she was all alone. “Stop it,” she muttered.

Exhaustion swamped her. She had to get some sleep. Seven in the morning would come fast.

And yet, how could she sleep knowing someone felt threatened enough to leave a note on her car? And to break into Brandon’s house...

All of a sudden, she didn’t feel so safe. Her locks looked flimsy and she couldn’t remember if her bedroom window was latched.

Swallowing hard against the fear that wanted to take hold of her, she headed to her bedroom. At the entrance, she paused. “He said it was clear. There’s no one in there.”

Saying the words out loud helped, but still...

She stepped over the threshold and went straight to the window, felt the latch and found it locked. Her breath whooshed from her lungs. “Get a grip, girl.”

After a quick shower, she threw on a T-shirt and cotton shorts and turned the air conditioner down a notch. She kept her cell phone close. A glance at the clock made her grimace. Almost ten o’clock. The thought of falling asleep and having someone break in while she lay unaware made her stomach turn.

For the next thirty minutes, she paced and prayed. And listened. Nothing happened. No one tried to get in.

She sank onto the couch, pulled a blanket around her and rubbed her bleary eyes. She leaned her head back and sighed. Chaucer hopped up in her lap and nuzzled her chin. She rubbed his ears and he purred.

A noise from the kitchen.

She jerked, breath hitching. Chaucer jumped to the floor with a protesting meow.

Then Sonya realized it was only the ice maker. She got up to pace again, angry with herself and the fear she couldn’t seem to kick. She had to sleep if she was going to be worth anything tomorrow at work.

Sonya sidled up to the window and looked out. Then blinked in surprise. A strange car sat snugged up next to her curb. She drew back, fear flushing through her once more. Was there someone in the car? Another peek through the window confirmed someone in the driver’s seat. Okay, someone in the car was watching her house. Why? Who?

Had the other incidents not happened, she wouldn’t have jumped to that conclusion, but at this point and after everything she’d been through, she was going to go with that first thought. Someone was watching her.

Sonya pulled her phone from her pocket and hit the number to speed-dial Brandon. She hated to wake him, but needed him to know about the car.

“Hello?”

“Hi, this is Sonya.”

“What’s up? Are you okay?”

“I’m sorry to call you so late, but I wanted you to know there’s a car parked out in front of my house on the curb and there’s someone in the driver’s seat.”

“Ah. That’s Frankie Lee. He’s a buddy of mine. He’s a detective and also helps out at Parker House. I didn’t feel right leaving you all alone and called him to be your backup.”

Relief and a smidgen of anger swept through her. “That would have been nice to know.”

A slight pause. She thought she might have hurt his feelings. “Sorry. I thought you might have gone on to sleep and I didn’t want to wake you,” he said, the stiffness in his voice making her wince.

The anger faded as fast as it had surfaced. “No, it’s fine. Wonderful, in fact. I’m sorry I snapped. The truth is, I was having trouble settling down. Now that I know someone is watching out for me, I’ll be able to sleep.”

“Well, good.” The stiffness was gone. “I’m dropping this letter off at the lab, then I’m heading home for a couple of hours of sleep. I’ll see you after your shift.”

“Sounds good.” She paused.

“You need something else?”

“No, no. I guess I just wanted to say thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sonya.” His low voice turned husky and warm, and shivers danced up her spine with the three words. And the way he said her name. She liked it. It made her feel—cared for. Something she hadn’t felt since her mother died.

She hung up and with one last relieved glance out the window headed for her room to get some much-needed sleep. And while glad for the security outside her home, she couldn’t help the niggling of unease that inched up her spine. Somehow she knew that while she might sleep easier tonight, the person watching her wasn’t far away.

He was waiting—and planning—for the next moment to strike.

FIVE

M
onday morning Brandon glanced at the clock on his desk at the police station and rubbed his chin. He’d snagged only a few hours of sleep last night, yet they’d been enough to refresh him.

Knowing Sonya was at work and under the watchful eye of Frankie, Brandon had felt comfortable enough to come in and work on his cases without worrying himself to death about her safety.

Brandon knew Frankie would call him if something came up. He hoped nothing did, of course. And now, in an hour, he’d pick up Sonya at the hospital and take her to meet Heather Bradley’s family. Time had slowed to a crawl and he had to force himself to focus. However, excitement stirred inside him, distracting him.

He wasn’t sure if it was the thought of seeing Sonya again or the possibility of discovering she was a missing child from twenty-eight years ago.

He stopped to consider that. Wariness rose as he realized seeing Sonya rated higher on his excitement meter than finding out if she was a Bradley. He’d have to add another layer to the crumbling wall around his heart.

His phone rang as he kept up the internal dialogue about why he couldn’t allow a romantic interest in Sonya to grow. “Yeah?”

“Tough day?”

Holt Granger, his buddy at the lab. Finally. “Not especially. Why?”

“You sound grumpy.”

“I’m not grumpy.”

“You sure? Because you sound grumpy.”

Brandon sighed. “I’m sure.”

“Whatever.”

“And no, my day has not been especially hard. I was just thinking about something.”

“Something that put you in a bad mood obviously.”

Brandon felt his lips twitch. Holt never had a bad day. Or if he did, he didn’t let on. “Do you have something that’s going to improve my mood?”

“Thought you weren’t in a bad mood.”

“I said I wasn’t grumpy. I didn’t say anything about my mood.”

Holt laughed and Brandon’s small smile curved higher. “Well?”

“I got a print off the letter.”

“You’re right. My mood just got better. Any matches?”

“No, sorry. Whoever the print belongs to isn’t in the system.”

“You just tanked my mood.”

Holt chuckled then turned serious again. “Nothing from your condo, either. Your intruder had on gloves.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“I’ll stay in touch and let you know if anything else comes up.”

“Thanks.”

Brandon hung up and looked at the clock again, realized what he was doing and rolled his eyes. His uncharacteristic impatience had him cranky and irritable in spite of his denials to Holt.

But he finally admitted his impatience stemmed from his desire to see Sonya again. He grabbed his keys and his phone and headed out the door. He’d be early, but at least he’d be moving instead of staring like a lovesick schoolboy at the clock on his desk.

* * *

At 4:55 in the afternoon, Sonya waved to Frankie Lee, her subtle bodyguard who leaned against the wall and pretended to read a magazine. He returned her wave with a nod and she gathered her things. He sauntered over and pushed the door to the locker room open. “Anyone in here?”

“Just me.” Gerri Aimes exited the locker room and gave Frankie the once-over. He seemed to meet her approval because she winked at Sonya. “It’s all yours.”

“Thanks.” Sonya didn’t bother to correct her coworker’s misunderstanding about who Frankie was. Instead, she stepped into the empty room where she’d change into her street clothes and freshen up a bit before heading down to meet Brandon. Just the thought made her smile. In spite of Brandon’s observation that she didn’t smile much. She’d noticed lately that when she thought of him, her lips automatically curved upward. She had to admit, too, that while on the job, she occasionally used the smile Brandon called fake. Even that was better than a frown. Or an expressionless facade.

Hospice could be such a heavy place. No one who came to hospice left alive, and families were grieving—some openly, some hiding it well. Others were angry that the medical staff couldn’t miraculously heal the dying loved one.

Sonya didn’t take it personally, but dealing with them didn’t make it any less emotionally draining. And while smiling usually came naturally to her, lately, it had been hard to find something to smile about. She was glad to let her lips relax in the privacy of the locker room.

Not everyone could do her job. She knew that and took comfort in the fact that she was needed even if being needed did come with a high emotional price tag. But she loved what she did and the families she worked with. So she coped with prayer and offered comforting embraces and empathetic tears.

Watching her parents die had given Sonya the desire to reach out to others, to let them know she knew exactly what they were going through. And offer genuine smiles when she could find them.

Some days she saw the results of her efforts. Other days she just prayed she’d made a difference.

Today was one of those days, so she prayed while she changed.

She would see Brandon in five minutes. Give or take a minute or two. She’d gotten permission to leave early, stating she had a personal issue to take care of.

Her nerves hummed and her brain whirled. Who were the Bradleys? What if she was Heather? Her throat tightened at the thought. No way. There just
had
to be a reasonable explanation for everything. Didn’t there?

She finished changing and closed the locker door. Another locker door shut with a click.

Footsteps to her left.

The lights went out.

In the dark, Sonya froze and listened. The inky blackness pressed in on her. “Hello?” She thought she was the sole occupant of the locker room since she was the only one leaving two hours before the shift ended.

Had the entire hospital lost power? But why hadn’t the generator kicked in?

She moved with shuffling steps toward the door, not wanting to bang her knees on the benches.

Another footfall landed somewhere in front of her, between her and the door. She stopped, her heart picking up speed. “Who’s there?”

When she didn’t get an answer, but knew someone was definitely in the room with her, her heart kicked it up another notch. With all of the strange things that had happened lately, she wasn’t taking any stupid chances.

Sonya shut her mouth and moved sideways. She hit a bench and set her bag on it. She wanted to reach in the bag and search for her cell phone, but didn’t dare make the noise she’d have to make in order to find the thing.

So, making no sound, she twisted the strap of her purse around her fingers and stepped around the bench, her soft-soled tennis shoes quiet on the tile floor.

With her pulse pounding in her ears, she moved toward the door once again, hoping whoever had been there seconds before had moved. Another muffled scrape reached her. The person still blocked Sonya’s exit.

She slipped back and into one of the bathroom stalls. And wondered if that was possibly the dumbest thing she could have done.

* * *

At ten after five, Brandon started to get a little nervous. Where was she? He was parked at the top of the circle next to the front door where she said she’d meet him. Maybe she’d gotten held up. He tried her number and frowned when she didn’t answer. He called Frankie. “Where’s Sonya?”

“She’s changing in the locker room. Taking her a while, though. I was just getting ready to check on her.”

“Did you clear it before she went in?”

“I did. Another woman was in there and came out when Sonya went in.”

Brandon waffled. “Give her another minute then knock on the door.” He should have put a woman on her. Would have made it easier to keep tabs on her in the bathrooms.

“Of course.”

Brandon waited for all of fifteen seconds, then got out of his car and headed for the entrance. He was probably overreacting but he’d rather play it safe. He couldn’t believe how worried he was. Telling himself he was being silly, that Frankie had it under control, he nevertheless hurried to the elevator.

* * *

Sonya held her breath then let it out in a slow, soundless hiss. She’d lost track of how many seconds—minutes?—had passed since she’d stepped into the stall. Two? Three? And yet, she heard nothing. No footsteps, no one breathing. Nothing.

She was beginning to think it really was her imagination after all, but her gut said it wasn’t.

She opened the stall door and stepped out.

From behind her, she felt movement. She started to turn and gasped when something hard, cold and sharp touched her throat and pressed. Sharp, stinging pain froze her. “This is your last warning. Stop looking for Heather Bradley.” The knife dug a little deeper. Sonya felt a warm trickle of blood begin to slide down her throat. She let out a whimper, lifted up on her tiptoes. She couldn’t speak, was afraid to move. One wrong slip of his hand and the blade would end it all.

The knife lowered and she shoved back against her attacker. The figure stumbled. She heard the knife clatter to the tile floor. Sonya spun away and lunged for the door. A hand gripped her collar and yanked her back.

A knock on the door made her attacker pause. Sonya swung around with her fist and connected with a cheekbone. He cried out and cursed, but let go.

* * *

“Sonya? Are you in here?”

“Missy! Get back!” Sonya moved and slammed into the bench. Pain shot through her knee and she heard Missy scream as the man raced through the open door. Sonya spun to see Missy shoved against the door and the dark-clothed figure disappear around the corner. Commotion escalated like a cresting wave. She thought she heard Frankie holler, then pounding feet.

Sonya sank to the floor and lifted a hand to her bleeding throat, wondering how deep the wound was. Weakness invaded her. Mentally, she knew she needed to get up and get help, but her body wouldn’t cooperate with her. Shock held her in a tight grip.

Then Brandon was beside her. “I need a doctor in here!” To Sonya, he said, “Let me see.” He removed her hand and she thought she saw relief flash in his eyes. “I think it’s just a surface wound.”

“It stings,” she whispered, “but doesn’t really hurt. My knee hurts worse.” She tried to laugh but wasn’t sure she succeeded when he grimaced.

“Sonya?”

She glanced up at Dr. Eddie Ryan’s concerned voice.

“Hey, Eddie,” she whispered. Security and police officers were already on the scene. They must have been close by. The observation almost made her laugh. She’d just had her throat cut and she was thinking about the proximity of law enforcement. Too bad they hadn’t been around when she’d been attacked.

Brandon moved back and let Eddie take his spot.

“Who did this?” Eddie asked without taking his eyes from her neck.

She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Someone who’s decidedly unhappy with me. Is Missy okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Hearing Missy’s shaky voice sent relief pouring through her.

“Unhappy with you?” Eddie snorted. “I’ll say.” He looked up and spoke to one of the nurses. “Let’s get her into a vacant room. Looks like she might need a stitch or two. Call the pharmacy and get me a prescription for an antibiotic.” He wrote the script, then looked back at Sonya. “I’m assuming your tetanus vaccination is up to date.”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

She looked at Brandon. “Where’s Frankie?”

“He went after your attacker,” he said. “Security is helping him. We should hear in a bit that he’s in custody. Now, let’s get you taken care of.”

Then hands were helping her into the wheelchair that had been called for. “I don’t need this. I can walk.”

“Sh.” Brandon laid a hand on her shoulder. “Sit.”

Since she didn’t think she could stand, much less walk as she’d said she could do, she bit her tongue on any further protests.

Thirty minutes later, she had two black stitches in the worst part of the cut, had downed the prescribed antibiotic and was waiting impatiently for Brandon to reappear. Thankfully, the wound was numb and she wasn’t in any pain at the moment, but she was grateful for the little bottle of pain pills in her purse for when the numbing medicine wore off.

She wanted to go home and sleep, but more than that, she wanted to head over to the Bradleys’ house. Brandon had wanted to cancel the meeting, but she’d asked him to just postpone it if that was all right with the Bradleys. She didn’t want to wait a moment longer than necessary to talk to them.

Doubtful, he’d done as she’d asked and now she itched to go. To get the visit over with. To determine once and for all that she was
not
Heather Bradley.

BOOK: Her Stolen Past
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Singing River by Ryals, R.K.
Inception by Ashley Suzanne
The Merit Birds by Kelley Powell
Powder Burn by Carl Hiaasen
Moonbase Crisis: Star Challengers Book 1 by Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J. Anderson, June Scobee Rodgers
A Case of Doubtful Death by Linda Stratmann
The Boleyns by David Loades
Johnny Halloween by Partridge, Norman
A Shroud for Aquarius by Max Allan Collins