Read Her Stolen Past Online

Authors: Lynette Eason

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BOOK: Her Stolen Past
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“Great.” Brandon still looked as if his attention was elsewhere. Then he gave a visible shake and rolled his shoulders as though pushing off the stress his mother’s appearance had put him under. “All right. Here’s the deal—” His phone rang. He glanced at the screen then at Sonya. “It’s Holt, my buddy at the lab.”

“Oh, good,” she breathed.

“Hello?”

He listened and Sonya strained to hear what Holt was saying, but couldn’t catch a word. Brandon nodded. “All right, thanks for letting me know. And thanks for staying late to run the tests. We appreciate it.”

He hung up and looked at Sonya. She gulped. “He did the DNA test, didn’t he? And got the results?”

“He did.”

“And?”

“You and Heather Bradley are a one hundred percent match,” he said.

ELEVEN

B
randon watched her absorb the news. He couldn’t say he was especially surprised. Not after seeing her next to Don Bradley.

Sonya pulled in a deep breath. “All right, so what does that mean? The parents I grew up with stole me?” Her jaw hardened. “I don’t believe it.”

“It could be they had no idea you were a kidnapped child. It could be you were a black-market baby. Someone kidnapped you and sold you to the highest bidder, so to speak.” Brandon spoke gently. She’d had a shock. And while it looked as though she was dealing with it, he knew she was in for some rough times ahead. He found himself wanting to be there for her. He reached around the desk and took her hand. It trembled in his.

Tears hovered on her lashes, but didn’t fall. “So. I’m Heather Bradley. I guess the next step is to let the Bradleys know, right?”

“Yes.” He picked his phone up from the desk. “I’ll call Don and ask him if we can meet.”

She nodded and sniffed. “Today. I want to do it today. If he has the time.”

“I’d rather tell him in person. Over the phone seems pretty cold.”

“Yes. In person is probably best.”

Hector tapped his pen against his desk. “Do you want me to look into your parents’ past? See if I can find any record of adoption or how they came to have you?”

Brandon saw a flurry of emotions cross her face, and then she nodded. “Yes. I’ve come this far. I might as well find out the whole story.” She twisted the strap on her purse. “If I don’t, I’ll just wonder.”

“I’ll take care of it.” Hector made a few notes. “Also, I would think you would want to do DNA tests with the Bradleys.”

Sonya blinked. “Why?”

“For their peace of mind, for one thing. Just for extra confirmation.”

Brandon dialed the number. Don picked up on the first ring. “Hello?”

“Hello, Don. Brandon Hayes here. I was wondering if you’d have some time to speak with us again.”

“I’m at my office. Could you come here?”

“Of course. What time?”

“Anytime.”

“We’re on our way.”

“You have some news, don’t you?” He asked the question hesitantly.

“Yes.”

“All right.” Now the man sounded downright nervous. “I’ll be waiting.”

Brandon hung up. “All right, let’s go.”

Sonya stood. “I’m ready.”

Hector held up a hand. “Hold on a sec.” He had his phone pressed to his ear, listening. He nodded and hung up. “I ran down the Bradleys’ son, Donald Junior. He’s an accountant for Grand National Bank in Texas. He’s been at a conference in San Diego for the past three days. He flies home tomorrow.”

“Is he really there?” Brandon asked.

“He’s there. He’s one of the main speakers and hasn’t missed a session.”

“Then he’s not the one after me,” Sonya mused.

“Unless he paid someone,” Brandon muttered. He looked at Hector. “Thanks.”

“Sure thing.”

Brandon escorted her down to where he’d parked the car and helped her in. She had her seat belt fastened by the time he climbed behind the wheel. “Are you all right?”

She let out a sigh. “I’m stunned, Brandon. My brain is whirling, and I don’t know what happened or how my parents ended up with me. A kidnapped baby. I don’t know why my mother had the baby bag and birth certificate in her closet or how it came to be there because I’d never seen it before that day. I don’t know a lot of things, but I’m ready to find some answers.”

He reached over to clasp her hand in his. Her strength and determination only made him admire her more. “You’re a pretty amazing woman, you know that?”

She let out a low, humorless laugh. “No, I’m clinging to God with everything I have in me when all I really want to do is go home, bury my head under the covers and pretend this is all a bad dream.” Tears floated to the surface again. And again she held them back. She lasered him with an intense look that shot straight to his heart. “I’m so glad I have you working on this with me, though. I really don’t know what I would do without you,” she whispered.

Her words rocked him, but didn’t stop him from pulling her into a hug. “We’ll get through this. I’m not going anywhere until you’re safe and we have the answers you need.”

“What if I never find them, Brandon? What if we just keep going in circles?”

He laid a light kiss on her lips, his desire to comfort her so strong it nearly strangled him. “Well, if you never find the answers, I guess that means I’m going to be around an awfully long time.”

She flushed and he swiped a stray tear. “Thanks,” she whispered.

“Welcome,” he whispered back. Then let her go to start the car.

The twenty-minute drive to Don Bradley’s office passed in a comfortable silence, both of them lost in their thoughts even though Brandon continued to keep an eye on their surroundings, alert for any hint of danger. But while his eyes roamed, his brain spun with his feelings for the lady beside him. She’d wiggled her way into his heart when he hadn’t been looking. And that scared him. He hated to admit being afraid, especially since not much scared him.

His feelings for Sonya had him tied in knots. So what was he going to do about it?

Nothing.

She was a client.

Then you’d better stop kissing her.
The thought taunted him. There was no way he wanted to lead her on, but the thought of her walking out of his life when all of this was over was simply unbearable.

He glanced at her. She had her eyes closed and her head against the window. Probably praying.

Maybe he should try it.

God? You know I believe in You even though I’ve been mad at You for a while now. Is it too late to ask for Your help? Not necessarily for me, but for Sonya. She really needs You. She believes You’re there for her. She’s hanging on to You. Could You just keep us safe? And help us figure out who wants us dead?

The prayer felt strange. And familiar.

He felt her gaze on him. “What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“Liar.” The word lacked heat. It was a gentle rebuke that made him shoot her a rueful grin.

“Yeah. I wasn’t really thinking. I was...praying.”

That got her attention. Her brows shot up. “Really?”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know you prayed.”

He snorted. “I pray. Just not very often.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve been...mad at God. About a lot of stuff.”

“Like your mom?”

He sighed. “Yes. Like my mom. And even my dad. But mostly my mom.”

“Will you tell me why?”

He glanced at her again. The compassion in her eyes twisted his heart inside out. How could she do that to him with just one look? “I didn’t have a horrible childhood, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Oh. Well, yes, that’s kind of what I was thinking.”

“My parents were teenage sweethearts. They got pregnant when my mother was sixteen. Instead of having parents raise us, we were all more or less like siblings. In the early part of our lives, my parents pretty much just ignored us. They partied. We were in the foster-care system a few times. Then they got us back after they took parenting classes and promised to party less.” He narrated the story as though telling about someone else’s life. It was the only way he could talk about it without the bitterness rising up to choke him. He looked at her. Felt her hand rest against his upper arm. He shrugged. “They started studying and going to school. Once we were old enough to be latchkey kids, we were. Mom became a nurse, Dad a mechanic. They worked all the time and we three kids fended for ourselves.”

“But you turned out all right.”

“We did. We had some good neighbors who kind of looked out for us. We even went to church with some of the other children in the neighborhood, catching a ride with whoever was going.” He sighed. “It wasn’t a miserable existence, but it wasn’t ideal, either.” He paused. “I wanted parents like some of the other kids had. The ones who came to the school plays and football games. I was quarterback and neither one of my parents ever made it to one of my games.”

“Oh, Brandon, that’s so sad.”

“Exactly. And so now you know. I was angry for a long time. Then I pushed it aside and focused on making something of my life.”

“And what about your mother? She came to the station today.”

“Yes. My mother.” He shook his head. “She’s trying to make up for lost time, I guess. She wants me to come to dinner Sunday.”

“Are you going?”

“No.” He heard the flat, cold word leave his lips. It effectively ended the conversation. That, and the fact that they’d arrived at their destination. He turned into the parking lot and found a spot under a shady tree.

He opened the door and stepped out of the car. His window exploded and he heard Sonya scream his name.

TWELVE

S
onya screamed again as the next bullet caught Brandon in his left shoulder. He went down. The few people in the parking lot took cover and grabbed for cell phones.

She scrambled across the seat to the open driver’s door and grasped his hand to help pull him back into the car. He slammed the door, his fingers searching for the seat button to push it back as far as it would go.

“Are you all right?” she gasped, terror pumping the blood through her veins in double time. “Let me look at it.”

“It’s a scratch. Call 911.”

Sonya saw that his color was only a couple of shades lighter than normal and his shoulder wasn’t bleeding much. She found her phone and punched in the three digits.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Someone’s shooting at us.” She gave the address, wondering if the woman could understand her shaky words.

“Units are on the way. Stay in a safe area if at all possible.”

Another shot took out the back window.

Brandon muttered something under his breath but Sonya didn’t catch it. He lifted his head and stared out the back. “I see him. Stay here.”

“What?”

But he didn’t answer. He shoved the driver’s door open and bolted toward the large industrial-sized trash can for cover. A bullet dinged off the metal. Sonya debated whether to run after Brandon, go for the building or stay put.

He made it to the next building and used one of the concrete columns in front as a shield. Another bullet. And another.

And then he was across the street.

Sonya opened her door and waited.

No bullets came her way.

She looked out the back window and saw a figure on the second floor of the parking garage across the street lift his gun, turn and run.

Sirens sounded. She made the final decision not to let Brandon face the would-be killer alone.

She bolted from the car and followed in his footsteps.

* * *

Brandon had seen the man with the gun on the second floor of the parking garage. This time he wasn’t getting away. Ignoring the throbbing of the wound in his shoulder, he raced into the garage, his weapon held in both hands, pointing down.

Footsteps sounded above him. He raced toward them. A woman with a baby started to get out of her car. Brandon used his left hand to flash his badge. “Get back in the car and lock the door, then get out of the garage.”

She gaped at the badge and the gun, then obeyed without question, her face pale and scared. He heard her start the car. He waited until she was headed for the exit before moving to the ramp that would take him to the second floor.

Brandon could hear the sirens. He needed to call in his location and request backup, but he didn’t dare stop yet. He came to the end of the ramp.

Stopped and listened.

Nothing. No more footsteps. His heart thundered in his chest and his adrenaline flowed, but he kept his breathing even, his focus on the sounds and even smells around him.

From the second floor, he heard the sound of a car cranking. The shooter? Or another innocent person getting ready to ride into the path of danger?

Pulling in a deep breath, Brandon rounded the corner, weapon ready. Tires squealed on the concrete and a black Honda headed for him. Brandon caught sight of the masked face behind the wheel. He aimed his weapon and fired at the front left tire.

The rubber exploded and the car spun.

Running feet sounded behind him and he whirled to find other officers on the scene. He flashed his badge and turned back to the car.

And the now escaping suspect. “Freeze! Police!” The man never stopped. Brandon raced to the edge of the garage and looked over. “Cut him off! Cut him off!” The shooter ignored the stairwell and went for the ramp on the other end of the garage. “He’s coming your way on the ramp!” he yelled to the officer below him. The officer responded by changing his direction and heading for the ramp. Brandon gave chase. The officers behind him followed.

Cruisers were now on the ground level. And still the fugitive managed to elude capture. He disappeared into the thick forest of trees that led to the Goethe River. A wild rushing mass of water, thanks to the waterfall not too far away.

On a hunch, Brandon headed for the bridge. He snagged his cell phone with his left hand and called in his position and where he was headed. Backup would follow. His footsteps pounded, his wound throbbed and his breaths came in fast pants, mostly from the pain, some from the extended running. He was in good shape, but he figured he was pushing somewhere near six miles.

Where was this guy?
Who
was this guy who could run this far and this long without stopping? Brandon kept his phone on and shoved it in his pocket. He had his Bluetooth in his ear and gave breathless updates every few seconds. A helicopter thumped above him. “Let me talk to the chopper.” Dispatch patched him through. “Where is he?”

“To your left. Keep going. He’s almost to the bridge. Cruisers are headed that way. One will stop on either side and trap him on the bridge.”

“What about the people on it?”

“There are two pedestrians.”

Brandon put on an extra burst of speed. He had to get to the bridge and get those people off before the suspect realized he was trapped. Brandon knew the man had left the rifle in the vehicle he’d abandoned, but he didn’t know if he had another weapon or not.

Brandon arrived at the bridge seconds after the fleeing man. The two pedestrians, who looked to be in their mid-twenties, stood still, watching the masked man before horror and realization hit them. Then the young man grabbed the girl’s hand. “Run!”

They took off. The first cruiser screeched to a halt at the end of the bridge. The young couple scooted around it and dropped out of sight. The masked man stopped and spun. Saw Brandon and the cruiser blocking the way he’d just come. Brandon held his gun on him. “On the ground! Now!”

There weren’t any weapons in sight, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have any. Brandon walked toward him. “You’re trapped, dude. Give it up.”

He didn’t answer. Just backed toward the railing. Brandon approached with slow, even footsteps, keeping his weapon steady, ready for anything.

Sweat pooled at the small of his back and dripped from his face. He could only imagine how hot the mask was. The man’s frantic eyes bounced from Brandon to the police officers who now approached, weapons drawn. “Come on,” Brandon said. “You haven’t hurt anyone yet. There’s still a chance you could get off light.”

“No way.” He gripped the railing and Brandon realized what he planned. He lunged for him just as the man vaulted over the rail. Brandon reached the spot the shooter had just vacated and gripped the metal. He looked over in time to see the man hit the water hard and go under. Officers raced toward their vehicles, radios in hand, reporting the situation.

The chopper veered off and he knew they would do their best to see where the man surfaced. Brandon placed his hands on his knees then winced as his shoulder reminded him of the rough treatment it had recently received.

“Brandon?”

He turned to find Sonya climbing out of another police cruiser. He walked toward her. “Hey, what are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t stay in the car. I saw the man leave the parking garage. I hitched a ride with this officer, who was willing to help me once I explained that I was in the car the guy was shooting at.” She paused and bit her lip. “I saw him jump.”

“Yeah.”

“You think he’ll be all right?” The doubt in her eyes told him what
she
thought.

Brandon shook his head. “I don’t know, but he’ll have to surface at some point, and when he does, we’ll grab him.”

“The police are everywhere. Surely he won’t get away this time.”

“Let’s hope not.” He took her hand and turned her toward the car.

She gasped when she saw his shoulder. “Your shoulder. It’s more than a scratch.”

He looked at the wound. “It’s bled more because I’ve been moving.”

“Will you let me look at it?”

The officer who’d given her the ride spoke for the first time. “We have EMTs on standby. Hop in and I’ll take you to one.”

“Great.” She gave Brandon a gentle shove toward the police car. He hesitated with one more look toward the rushing river, then shook his head and gave in.

* * *

Sonya paced in the waiting room while Brandon was in the back getting patched up. Two officers stood guard over her at his insistence. As she paced, she touched the still-healing wound on her throat and thought.

She was missing something. Who would benefit from her death? The person who didn’t want Heather Bradley found, obviously.

But why would someone not want the child found? What did it matter at this point if she was found or not? The only reason she could come up with was the adopted son. He didn’t want her found because he felt threatened. But he had an alibi for the shooting. Then again, he could have hired someone.

“Sonya?”

She turned to find Don Bradley—her biological father—standing in the doorway. The officers moved closer. She nodded that it was all right and walked toward the man. “Hi.”

“Is the detective all right?”

“He’ll be fine. And I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you called him Brandon.”

He gave a relieved smile. “I heard the shots and saw all the craziness from my office window. Then I saw Brandon take off after him—” He swallowed hard and shook his head. “I’m so sorry this is happening. I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want Heather found.”

“We don’t, either.”

He motioned for her to sit and she did. He eased into the chair beside her, then looked her in the eye. “You’re Heather, aren’t you? That’s what you were coming to tell me, isn’t it?”

Sonya swallowed hard and gave a slow nod. “The DNA from the hair you supplied was a match. A hundred percent match.”

“I see. You know, my wife’s sister died shortly after you were born.” His eyes shifted to the wall and she could tell his mind had gone to the past. “Those were hard days.” His eyes reddened, but no tears appeared. “But we had you. You were the shining spot in my life.” He reached over to grip her hand and Sonya let him. “I loved you with every fiber of my being—and then you were gone. And I felt I’d lost everything.”

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

He sniffed and blew out a breath, then stood and shoved his hands into his pockets.

Brandon appeared in the doorway and she rushed to him. “Are you okay?”

“Yes.” He smiled and touched her cheek. “I’m fine. A scratch like I said.” He saw Don and held out a hand. “Guess you heard the commotion.”

“And then some.” Don shook his hand. “Sonya just told me the news.”

Brandon nodded. “I hated to tell you over the phone.”

The man gave him a small smile. “When you didn’t say it, I knew.”

“I figured you probably did.”

A woman entered the waiting room. Sonya recognized Brandon’s sister, Erica. Brandon spotted her at the same time. Erica made a beeline for her brother. “Shot? Really? Again?”

Brandon hugged and shushed her. “Stop. It’s barely there. Only needed five stitches and some antibiotics. Already had the tetanus up to date and I’m good to go. Won’t even need physical therapy.”

Erica looked as if she was ready to add to her brother’s pain. “Are you insane?”

He sighed. “Not last I checked. I’m fine, Erica.”

“Where was Max or Peter or Jordan or Frankie? Or
someone?

His jaw tightened. “They can’t babysit twenty-four-seven.”

“Of course they can,” she snapped. Sonya watched the two siblings snipe at each other a moment longer before Erica’s shoulders drooped. “You just scared me.”

Brandon softened at his sister’s sincere worry. He wrapped his good arm around her. “I know. I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful.”

It was her turn to sigh. “No, you won’t.” She pulled away.

Sonya exchanged a glance with Don. He shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips in spite of the seriousness of the situation. Sonya felt a pang in the vicinity of her heart. Growing up, she’d always wanted a brother or sister, and now watching Erica and Brandon, she realized she still did.

“What’s your son’s name?” she asked Don.

“Grayson.”

“How will he feel when he learns about me?”

“Thrilled. He grew up knowing he had a sister. He’s always said he wished she—you—would turn up one day.”

Sonya nodded. “Maybe soon we could meet. After the craziness is over. I don’t want to put him in danger.”

“Of course.” He shook his head. “He used to pretend his nanny was his sister, but after we lost Heather—you—having another girl just seemed...wrong somehow.” He flushed. “Silly, I know.”

“Nanny?” Brandon asked.

Don blinked. “Er...yes.” He gave a little laugh. “My wife loves being a mother, but she also loves her social life.” His lips twisted in a sad smile. “It was just easier to hire live-in help. With time off, of course.”

“Of course.”

Sonya knew exactly what was clicking through Brandon’s mind. “Did I have a nanny?” she asked.

His brows lifted. “Um...well...yes, as a matter of fact, you did.”

“Was she the same nanny Grayson had?”

“No. I called to check on her one time and found she’d moved.”

“Moved where?”

“I’m not sure. No one said.”

“What’s her name?”

“Rebecca Gold.”

“You think she would talk to us?”

Don frowned. “Why?”

“She was Heather’s nanny. I want to ask her if she saw anything suspicious the day Heather was taken.”

“But she wasn’t at church that morning.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. She didn’t even go to that church.” He paused. “You’re not thinking she took Heather, are you?”

“The possibility crossed my mind,” Brandon said.

“But the police talked to her and cleared her.”

“Maybe they just didn’t ask the right questions.”

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