Authors: DELORES FOSSEN
Maybe they were.
Josh hadn’t been with a woman since Jaycee. Not much time for that while recovering from a gunshot wound and jump-starting his life. He doubted Jaycee had been with anyone, either. So, maybe it was just because they needed someone.
And Josh wished he could believe that.
It would be so much easier than feeling all this fire. This ache. This confusion.
Because it was wrong to kiss Jaycee like this if he couldn’t forgive her, and he wasn’t certain he was ready to do that.
Josh also got that bad feeling in the back of his head. The one that whispered he might never be able to forgive her. He pulled back. But stayed close.
Her face was flushed, and her breath was ragged. She was looking at him as if they’d lost their minds.
A distinct possibility.
Especially on his part.
“Don’t,” she said, easing back. “I don’t want you to say you’re sorry unless you truly are.”
Since Josh had no idea if that
applied to him, he just kept his mouth shut and tried to talk himself out of kissing her again.
Yeah, talk about zero willpower.
It took him a few seconds to realize the ringing sound wasn’t in his head. It was his phone. Good grief. With everything going on, the last thing he should be doing was kissing Jaycee, since it was a serious distraction. Among other things.
Still cursing himself, Josh took out the phone expecting to see one of his cousin’s names. But it was the 911 dispatcher.
“Josh Ryland,” he answered, wondering what the heck had gone wrong now.
“Deputy Ryland,” the man said, “someone just called and said it was an emergency, that she needed to speak to you right away. She sounded desperate—”
“Who is it?” Josh asked.
“She won’t give me her name, but I can transfer the call to you. You can talk to her yourself.” And the seconds crawled by until Josh heard the woman.
“Deputy Ryland?” the woman didn’t wait for him to confirm it. “You have to help me. Please.”
“Who is this?” he demanded. Jaycee moved closer to the phone so she could hear.
“It’s Sierra DeSilva.”
Well, he hadn’t expected to hear from her. Especially not like this. “I just had a chat with your sister and your ex-lover, Bryson. Did one of them contact you?”
“No. I haven’t seen either of them in weeks.” She made a hoarse-sounding sob. “I was kidnapped and taken to some kind of place where they’re holding pregnant women.”
Everything inside Josh went still. “A baby farm?”
“Yes,” Sierra jumped to say. “And I just escaped. Please, Deputy Ryland, come and get me. Because if they find me, they’ll kill me.”
Jaycee was back to pacing again. This time at the Silver Creek sheriff’s office while she waited for Josh and the other deputies to return with Sierra. Josh had insisted she not go with Grayson, Dade and him to collect the woman.
Because it could be a trap.
So instead Josh had taken her to the sheriff’s office, where she was being guarded by yet two more of his cousins. Gage and Bree. According to what Josh had told her, both had once worked for the Justice Department and had loads of training.
And they were a vigilant pair.
Even though Jaycee couldn’t see her from the office doorway, Bree was posted at the rear exit, armed and ready for a possible attack. Gage was at the front door. They’d given Jaycee strict orders to stay away from the windows.
Which she’d done.
She wanted Sierra rescued safe and sound. If the woman truly needed rescuing, that was. But Jaycee didn’t want to be part of the rescue if it meant putting her own baby at further risk.
If Sierra contacts you for any reason, don’t believe a word she says,
Valerie had warned them.
But the problem with that was Jaycee didn’t know if they could trust Valerie, either. This could be a case of bad blood between siblings, and maybe Sierra was innocent in all of this.
Or this could be some kind of hoax meant to draw out Josh for another attempt to kill him.
She looked up at the clock on the wall again. Frowned. Not even a minute had passed since she’d last checked, and since she couldn’t tamp down all this pressure-cooker energy inside her, she just kept pacing.
It’d only been forty minutes since Josh and the others had left to get Sierra at an abandoned gas station just outside of town. That wasn’t nearly enough time to start worrying that something had gone wrong.
But Jaycee worried anyway.
She blamed that in part on that stupid kiss. It’d been wonderful, no doubt about it, but that didn’t make it right. Josh still had to deal with his feelings for her. Added to that, they needed to focus on the case. However, that wasn’t even the best reason to ban all future kissing.
It was because she was falling for him.
Of course, she’d had a thing for Josh since she’d first met him several years ago, but that kiss had reminded her that the
could be a whole lot more. She needed to nip that idiotic notion in the bud and not weave some stupid fantasy of them getting together to be a family.
Besides, she didn’t want a family. She’d had one of those once, and it hadn’t worked out so well.
She only wanted for her baby to be safe.
The bell jangled over the front door and Jaycee peered out from the office. She saw Grayson come in. Then Dade, who had his arm looped around a pale-skinned woman with flaming red hair.
Sierra, no doubt.
The woman was indeed pregnant and had her hands splayed over her stomach.
As good as it was to see that Sierra had been rescued, Jaycee didn’t stop holding her breath until Josh walked in. Her heart did a flip-flop. And she cursed it. Because she figured her heart shouldn’t continue to have a say in this.
It’d rarely made good decisions in the past.
Josh snagged her gaze for just a second and she could see the relief in his eyes. Relief no doubt because there’d been no repeat attacks while he was gone. They all moved toward Grayson’s office, but Gage kept his position at the door, probably to make sure Sierra and the others hadn’t been followed.
“You have to find her,” Sierra said, her breath ragged.
“Her?” Jaycee asked.
“The woman who escaped with me. I don’t know her name, but we both sneaked out of the house when the guard was asleep.”
“Any sign of this woman?” Jaycee asked.
Josh shook his head. “Sierra said they got separated in the woods.”
“We did,” Sierra verified, frantically bobbing her head. “And this woman isn’t well. In fact, I think she’s crazy. Doesn’t surprise me after being held in that horrible place. Anyway, she was rambling, saying things that didn’t make sense.”
Yes, it would be easy to lose your mind while being held captive, and Jaycee hated the thought of this woman wandering around in the woods.
“We’ll find her,” Josh insisted, and the other Rylands voiced some kind of agreement.
“We’ll keep Sierra here for a little while,” Grayson explained to Jaycee. “There were two suspicious vehicles with out-of-state plates in the parking lot at the hospital, so I thought it’d be safer to bring her here.”
That got Jaycee’s heart pounding. Those armed guards could be in the vehicles. They could come to the sheriff’s office and stage another attack to kill Josh.
Josh must have seen the worry in her eyes because he ran his hand over Jaycee’s arm. “It’s okay. Mason and the other deputy are checking out the vehicles now.”
“It’s someone looking for me,” Sierra concluded, her voice filled with nerves.
No one in the room disputed that.
Jaycee and Josh moved back so Dade could ease Sierra onto the small leather sofa in Grayson’s office. Dade got her a bottle of water, then excused himself, saying he needed to go help Mason and the deputy deal with those vehicles.
Sierra had a hefty sip of water before the tears came spilling down her cheeks. “I can’t believe I got away from them. They’ll come for me,” she added in a broken whisper.
“Where were you when you escaped?” Jaycee asked.
Sierra looked at her as if she hadn’t noticed her before in the room despite Jaycee asking her a question earlier. “I’m not sure. I’ve already told the sheriff that it was about a mile or so from the gas station. I stole a phone before I got away, but there wasn’t any service until I actually got to the gas station.”
“There are a lot of dead spots for cell phones out there,” Grayson added. “But we’ve called the Texas Rangers so they can comb the area.”
“They have to find it,” Sierra said. “There are other women being held captive.”
It sickened Jaycee to hear that, but if Sierra was telling the truth, those women stood a good chance of being rescued tonight.
“Your sister came in earlier,” Josh tossed out there. “And Bryson.”
At the mention of those names, Sierra’s tears dried up and her mouth tightened. “Let me guess. They had all sorts of lies to tell about me.” Not exactly a question.
Josh lifted his shoulder. “Bryson said you tried to blackmail him over some sex tapes.”
Sierra didn’t blush, didn’t even dodge his intense lawman’s stare. “I simply asked him to pay me for the tapes. Did he also tell you that he broke into my place to get them?”
Josh nodded. “If you want to file charges against him, I’ll put you in contact with someone at SAPD.”
“That’s water under the bridge.” Sierra got that distressed look again as if she might start crying. “I’m the victim here. Not my money-grubbing sister and my ex-boyfriend. In fact, you should look at both of them, because either of them could be behind these baby farms.”
Great. The sisters had now accused each other of running this heinous business. “You have any proof that they’re responsible?” Jaycee pressed.
Sierra quickly nodded. “I do. I have some of Valerie’s bank records at my apartment. They prove that she was withdrawing huge sums of money from her trust fund.”
Grayson and Josh exchanged glances. “How’d you get these records?” Grayson asked.
Now Sierra’s gaze darted away. “I saw them in her office and copied them, all right? I knew she was up to no good, and I wanted some proof.”
So she’d stolen them. And tried to use a sex tape to extort money from her former lover. Sierra definitely had some credibility issues, but at least she didn’t seem to be dodging their questions.
“Does your sister need money or something?” Josh pressed. “I ask because I’m just wondering why you’d think she would do this.”
“Money, definitely,” Sierra said. “Yes, she’s got plenty of it, but she’d love to have much more. With Valerie it’s always more, more, more, and she doesn’t care who she steps on to get it.”
Obviously, they needed to take a hard look at Valerie’s financials. Of course, this could all be lies. Or not. Sierra certainly seemed shaken, but Jaycee had to admit that it could all be an act.
Sierra gave a weary sigh. “I know it’s hard to think this about one’s own sister, but I believe Valerie could have had me kidnapped so she could sell my baby to Bryson.”
Jaycee couldn’t completely dismiss that theory. From everything she’d seen, Bryson would indeed pay a huge ransom to get his heir. Of course, Bryson himself could be behind this, too. He could have had Sierra kidnapped to ensure that he got his hands on the baby.
So now they had three suspects.
Sierra, Bryson and Valerie.
Jaycee didn’t have a gut feeling about any of them except that she didn’t intend to trust any of them.
“Can someone call Bryson and tell him I’ve been rescued?” Sierra asked.
The request was a surprise, considering that minutes earlier she’d accused him of telling lies about her.
“I can call him,” Grayson finally said, though he sounded as suspicious as Jaycee felt. “Anything specific you want me to tell him?”
“Yes. Tell him if he cares about this baby at all, he’ll get his butt down here to Silver Creek right away or he’ll never see his child.” But Sierra waved that off and sniffled again. “It’s just the nerves talking.”
Sierra paused, gathered her breath. “Bryson cut me to the core when I told him I was pregnant. I wanted him to divorce his cold fish of a wife and marry me. But he refused.”
Of course he did. His rich wife gave him the standing in the community that he wanted. But what about that standing once everyone learned he’d cheated on his wife and gotten another woman pregnant? He might collect his inheritance but could lose everything else.
Grayson’s phone rang, and he glanced at the screen. “It’s Mason,” he told them, and answered it. “What’d you find out about those suspicious vehicles?”
Jaycee couldn’t hear what Mason said, but the call was short. Grayson ended it and looked at Sierra. “False alarm on the vehicles. Some kids on a class trip got food poisoning, and this was the nearest hospital. Come on. I’ll take you to see the doctor.”
Sierra didn’t argue. She wobbled a little when she stood and touched her hand to her head. “Someone please call Bryson and tell him what I’ve been through.”
“I will,” Josh assured her.
“Tell him to come to the hospital,” Sierra added. “I need to see him.”
Josh just nodded, and they watched as Grayson took her by the arm and led her back out to the squad car.
“You believe her?” Jaycee asked.
Josh shrugged. “I believe she’s a gold digger, and that means I automatically distrust her.”
Yes, so did she. Besides, Sierra was giving off mixed signals about Bryson. In one breath she was bad-mouthing him, and in the next she wanted to see him. Of course, she could have wanted to see him just to try to get money out of him. Still, that seemed a strange reaction considering the ordeal she’d just been through.
Josh located Bryson’s contact number in Grayson’s files, and he made the call. “No answer,” he muttered after letting it ring a half dozen times, and he left a message for the man to contact him ASAP.
“What about Valerie’s financials?” Jaycee asked.
Josh nodded, and he fired off a text. This time to his cousin Kade Ryland, who was an FBI agent. He asked not just for info on Valerie but for a search warrant for Sierra’s apartment.
“The warrant shouldn’t be hard to get,” Josh said to her when he finished texting. “We can tie it to her kidnapping and the baby farm investigation.”
“Good. And during the search maybe they’ll run across those bank statements that Sierra said she had. If not, I figure Sierra would gladly hand them over since they seem to implicate her sister of some wrongdoing. Or not,” Jaycee quickly added.
“Yeah. This could be just a bad case of sibling rivalry.”
He checked the time and tipped his head to the door. “Ready to get out of here? I can have Gage or Bree escort us back to the ranch.”
Jaycee hated to tie up so much manpower just to protect her and now Sierra. However, after what’d happened on their last drive to the ranch, she welcomed the extra security.
“Let me get everything ready,” Josh said, but he didn’t even make it a step before his phone rang.
Jaycee expected it to be Bryson returning his call, but she saw
on the screen.
“Deputy Ryland,” Josh answered. And since he didn’t put the call on speaker, Jaycee moved close enough to hear. She prayed this wasn’t yet more bad news.
“There’s another woman trying to contact you,” the dispatcher told Josh. “She says her name is Miranda Culley and that it’s important. Could be some kind of prank—”
“I’ll talk to her,” Josh interrupted. “You know her?” he mouthed to Jaycee.
But she had to shake her head.
“Deputy Ryland?” the woman said the moment Josh answered. “I heard them say your name so that’s why I asked for you.” Her breath was gusting and her words rushed together. “I knew it was safe to call you. Because I figure if they want you dead, then you’re not working for them.”
“Who wants me dead?” Josh asked.
“The guards.” A sob tore from her throat. “Four months ago I was kidnapped. And I gave birth to my baby yesterday. The guards took her. I don’t know where. But they were going to kill me, and I managed to escape. I can’t look for my baby on my own. I need your help.”
Oh, mercy. This didn’t sound good at all.
“Escaped from where?” Josh pressed.
“A ranch out in the middle of nowhere. I need your help, please,” she repeated. “And I need you to find my baby and arrest the person who did this to us.”
The muscles in his jaw turned to iron. “You know who the person is?”
“I know.” The woman made another ragged sound.
And the line went dead.