Undercover Husband, page 1
The marriage is fake. The danger is real.
A child is all scientist Hannah Dietrich has left of her late sister...a child possibly kidnapped by the mysterious cult her sister had joined. To discover the truth about Emily’s death and find her infant daughter, Hannah turns to BLM Special Agent Walt Riley. Posing as a married couple, they infiltrate the “Family” as devoted followers of the Prophet.
But delving into the cult’s dark secrets proves harder than expected...while their roles feel disturbingly easy for the fiercely independent Hannah and the no-nonsense lawman. Has their charade become a real relationship? And if they find the infant, how will they escape the Prophet’s murderous wrath?
The Ranger Brigade: Family Secrets
“Why did he come after us?” she asked. “I thought you shot him back
at the camp.”
“Obviously it wasn’t enough to stop him.”
“But he won’t stop us.”
“No, he won’t.” He started out of the culvert, but she took hold of his arm, turning him toward her.
“What—” She cut off the question, her lips on his, her body pressed against him. All the fear and anxiety and the giddy relief of being alive at this moment coalesced in that kiss.
He wrapped his arms around her, crushing her to him. Every kiss touched some vulnerable part of her, coaxing her to let go a little bit more, to surrender. To trust.
He rested his forehead against hers. “This isn’t the best time for this,” he said.
“I know. We have to go. I just... I wanted you to know how I felt.”
“I got the message, loud and clear.” He wrapped both hands around her wrists and kissed the tips of her fingers, a gesture which set her heart to fluttering wildly.
Cindi Myers is the author of more than fifty novels. When she’s not crafting new romance plots, she enjoys skiing, gardening, cooking, crafting and daydreaming. A lover of small-town life, she lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in the Colorado mountains.
Books by Cindi Myers
The Ranger Brigade: Family Secrets
Murder in Black Canyon
The Men of Search Team Seven
Colorado Crime Scene
Lawman on the Hunt
The Ranger Brigade
Black Canyon Conspiracy
Rocky Mountain Revenge
Rocky Mountain Rescue
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CAST OF CHARACTERS
Hannah Dietrich—A corporate chemist in Texas, Hannah is used to fighting her own battles and being in charge. But when her sister dies and names Hannah guardian of her infant daughter, Hannah will do anything to find and save the baby, even if it means temporarily surrendering control to someone else.
Walt Riley—The BLM Special Agent is an experienced investigator, but posing as Hannah’s husband to infiltrate a back-to-nature cult tests him in ways he hasn’t been tested before. Can he save Hannah and her niece without losing his heart in the process?
Daniel Metwater—Son of a wealthy industrialist, Metwater has forsaken his upbringing to preach peace and love to a wandering band of followers who are camping on public land. He calls himself a prophet, but the Ranger Brigade believes he’s hiding a bigger secret, maybe even murder.
Emily Dietrich—The young woman left her home to join up with Metwater’s “Family” after her fiancé was killed. Pregnant and alone, she put her trust in the Prophet, only to die alone in a Denver hospital under mysterious circumstances. She was one of Metwater’s favorites, but did a falling out with him lead to her death?
Phoenix—The former heroin addict credits Metwater with saving her life. As one of his most loyal followers, she claims she would do anything for him, but does that include murder?
Kiram—Metwater’s enforcer dislikes rule breakers and has a special hatred for Walt, who refuses to bend to his will.
Lucia Renfro—The teenager came to Metwater wanting to join the family. He says he sent her away, but now she’s missing and all clues lead back to the camp.
Excerpt from Take It to the Grave (Part 1 of 6) by Zoe Carter
“I was told you’re the ones who can help me.”
The soft, cultured voice as much as the words caught the attention of Bureau of Land Management special agent Walt Riley. The Ranger Brigade headquarters in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park didn’t get many visitors, and certainly not many women as beautiful as the one standing on the opposite side of his desk now. Slender, with blond hair worn piled on top of her head, she spoke with an air of command, as if she was used to overseeing a corporation or running board meetings. Everything about her—from the designer sunglasses to the diamonds glinting at her earlobes to the toes of her high heels—looked expensive, and out of place in this part of rural Colorado, where jeans and boots were the most common attire for men and women alike.
Walt stood. “What do you need help with?” he asked. He selfishly hoped she wasn’t merely a lost tourist or someone who needed a camping permit or something that was better handled by the park rangers in the office next door.
She opened the sleek leather satchel she had slung over one shoulder and pulled out a sheaf of papers and handed it to him. At first glance, it appeared to be some kind of legal document. “What is this?” he asked.
“It’s a court order awarding me custody of my niece, Joy Dietrich.” She removed the sunglasses and he found himself staring into a pair of intensely blue eyes, their beauty undimmed by the red rims and puffy lids, evidence that Miss Cool and Collected had, very recently, been crying. “I need your help getting her back from the people who have kidnapped her,” she said.
This definitely was more serious than a camping permit. Walt dragged a chair over to his desk. “Why don’t you sit down, Ms.—?”
“Dietrich. Hannah Dietrich.” She sat, crossing her long legs neatly at the ankles. There was nothing particularly revealing about the gray slacks and matching jacket she wore, but she still managed to look sexy wearing them. Or maybe it was only that Walt had always had a thing for blue-eyed blondes.
“Wait here, Ms. Dietrich,” he said. “I’m going to get my commanding officer and you can tell us your story.”
He strode to the back of the building and poked his head around the open door of Commander Graham Ellison’s office. The FBI agent, who still car
“There’s a woman out here who says she needs our help recovering her kidnapped niece,” Walt said. “Before I had her run through the whole story, I thought you might like to hear it.”
“Who does she say kidnapped her niece?” Marco, one of the senior members of the Ranger Brigade, had a reputation as an expert tracker and a cool head in even the tensest situations. Walt hadn’t had a chance to work with him yet, but he had heard plenty of stories from others on the team.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Walt said.
“Let’s hear what she has to say.” Graham led the way back to Walt’s desk, where Hannah Dietrich waited. If the prospect of being confronted by three lawmen unsettled her, she didn’t show it. “Ms. Dietrich, this is Commander Graham Ellison and Agent Marco Cruz.”
“Hello.” She nodded, polite but reserved. “I hope you’ll be able to help me.”
“Why don’t you tell us more about your situation?” Graham pulled up a second chair, while Marco stood behind him. Walt perched on the corner of the desk. “You say your niece was kidnapped?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“What manner would that be?” Marco crossed his arms over his chest.
“I think it would be best if I began at the beginning.” She smoothed her hands down her thighs and took a deep breath. “I have—had—a sister, Emily. She’s six years younger than me, and though we have always been close, in temperament we’re very different. She was always carefree, impulsive and restless.”
Nothing about Hannah Dietrich looked restless or impulsive, Walt thought. Even obviously distressed as she was, the word she brought to mind was control. She controlled her feelings and she was used to being in control of her life.
“About a year ago, Emily met a man, Raynor Gilbert,” Hannah continued. “He was working as a bouncer at a club in Denver that she used to frequent, and they became lovers. She found out she was pregnant, and they had plans to marry, but he was killed in a motorcycle accident only a week after Emily learned she was expecting.” She paused a moment, clearly fighting for composure, then continued.
“My sister was devastated, and acted out her grief with even more impulsive behavior. I wanted her to come live with me, but she refused. She said she wanted a different life for herself and her child. She attended a rally by a group that calls themselves the Family. Their leader is a very handsome, charismatic man named Daniel Metwater.”
“We know about Metwater.” Graham’s expression was grim. Metwater and his “family” had a permit to camp in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, adjacent to the national park and part of the Rangers’ territory. Though Metwater had recently been eliminated as the chief suspect in a murder investigation, the Rangers continued to keep a close watch on him and his followers.
“Then you are probably aware that he recruits young people to join his group, promising them peace and harmony and living close to nature,” Hannah said. “His message appealed to my sister, who I believe was looking for an excuse to run away from her life for a while.”
“When was the baby—Joy—born?” Walt asked.
Her eyes met his, softening a little—because he had remembered the child’s name? “She was born a little over three months ago. Emily sent me a letter with a photograph. She said the baby was healthy, but I know my sister well enough to read between the lines. I sensed she wasn’t happy. She said things had been hard, though she didn’t provide any details, and she said she wanted to come home for a visit but didn’t know if the Prophet—that’s what this Metwater person calls himself—would allow it. I would have gone to her right away, but her letter gave no clue as to where she was located. She said the Family was moving soon and she would write me again when they were settled.”
“Did she usually contact you via letter instead of calling or texting or emailing?” Walt asked.
“Apparently, one condition of being a part of this group is giving up electronic devices like computers and cell phones,” Hannah said. “I don’t know if all the members comply with that restriction, but Hannah was very serious about it. Shortly after she joined the group, she wrote and told me we could only communicate through letters.”
“Did that alarm you?” Graham asked.
“Of course it did.” A hint of annoyance sharpened Hannah’s voice. “I wrote back immediately and tried to persuade her that a group that wanted its members to cut off contact with family and friends had to be dangerous—but that letter came back marked Return to Sender. It was months before I heard anything else from Emily, and that was the letter informing me of Joy’s birth. In the interim, I was worried sick.”
She opened the satchel once more and withdrew an envelope. “Then, only two weeks after the letter announcing Joy’s birth came, I received this.” She handed the envelope to Walt. He pulled out two sheets of lined paper, the left edge ragged where the pages had been torn out of a notebook.
“‘I’m very afraid. I don’t think anyone can help me,’” Walt read out loud. “‘If anything happens to me, promise you will take care of Joy.’” He looked at Hannah. “What did you do when you received this?”
“I was frantic to find her. I hired a private detective, and he was able to track down Metwater and his followers, but they told him there was no one in the group who fit my sister’s description and they knew nothing. Look at the other paper, please.”
Walt handed the first sheet to Graham and scanned the second sheet. “Is this a will?” he asked.
“Yes. It names me as Joy’s guardian in the event of Emily’s death. I was able to have a court certify it as legal and grant me custody.”
“How did you do that?” Graham asked. “Without proof of your sister’s death?”
“I was able to find proof.” She brought out another envelope and handed it to the commander. “Here are copies of my sister’s death certificate, as well as a birth certificate for her daughter.”
Graham read the documents. “This says she died in Denver, of respiratory failure.” He frowned. “Did your sister have a history of respiratory problems?”
“She had suffered from asthma off and on for most of her life, but it was well controlled with medication. She never had to be hospitalized for it.”
“Do you have any idea what she was afraid of?” Walt asked. “Did she specifically say that Metwater or anyone else threatened her?”
Hannah shook her head. “She didn’t. But I know my sister. Emily was a lot of things, but she wasn’t the nervous type and she wasn’t a drama queen. She was truly terrified of something, and I think it had to do with Metwater and his cult.”
Walt scanned the will again. His attention rested on the signatures at the bottom of the page. “This says the will was witnessed by Anna Ingels and Marsha Caldwell.”
“Marsha Caldwell was a nurse at the hospital where Joy was born,” Hannah said. “She left when her husband was transferred overseas, so I haven’t been able to talk to her. And I wasn’t able to determine who Anna Ingels is.”
“Maybe she’s one of Metwater’s followers,” Walt said.
“Except that most of them don’t use their real names,” Marco said. “It makes tracking them down more difficult.”
“But not impossible,” Graham said. He shuffled the papers in his hand. “This birth certifica
“The hospital wouldn’t give me any information, and the PI wasn’t able to find out anything, either.” She shifted in her chair, as if impatient. “When I talked to the local sheriff’s office, they said the area where Metwater is camping is your jurisdiction,” she said. “All I need is for you to go with me to get Joy.”
“You haven’t tried to make contact with them on your own?” Graham asked.
She shook her head. “The private detective I hired paid them a visit. That’s when they refused to admit they had ever known Emily or that Joy even existed. He told me the conditions in their camp are pretty rough—that it isn’t the place for an infant.” She pressed her lips together, clearly fighting to maintain her composure. “I don’t want to waste any more time. I thought it would be better to show up with law enforcement backing. I know this Metwater preaches nonviolence, but my sister was genuinely afraid for her life. Why else would she have made a will at her age?”
“It doesn’t seem out of line for a new parent to want to appoint a guardian for her child,” Marco said. “Maybe she was merely being prudent.”
“One thing my sister was not was prudent,” Hannah said.
Unlike Hannah herself, Walt thought. He certainly knew how different siblings could be. “May I see the birth certificate?” he asked.
Graham passed it to him, then addressed Hannah. “Do you have a picture of your niece?”
“Only the newborn photo my sister sent.” She slipped it from the satchel and handed it to him. Graham and Marco looked at it, then passed it to Walt.
He studied the infant’s wrinkled red face in the oversize pink bonnet. “I don’t think this is going to be much help in identifying a three-month-old,” he said.
“We can go to Metwater and demand he hand over the child,” Graham said. “But if he refuses to admit she even exists, it could be tougher.”
“You can’t hide an infant for very long,” Hannah said. “Someone in the camp—some other mother, perhaps—knows she exists.”
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