Making her way home, p.1

Making Her Way Home, page 1

 

Making Her Way Home
 



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Making Her Way Home


  An unlikely alliance with the most likely suspect

  A child is missing. The words chill Detective Mike Ryan and bring to mind memories of his own tragedy. He’ll dedicate every resource he has until the girl Sicily is found, safe…and alive. His investigation hits a snag with Sicily’s aunt and guardian, Beth Greenway. Beth’s cool demeanor is at odds with the situation, making him suspicious. She’s definitely hiding something. But the more time he spends with her, the less he believes that something is about the missing niece. And with all that contact, Mike sees Beth’s vulnerabilities. Suddenly, he wants to protect her, even while he wants to know her secrets.

  As the search hits one roadblock after another, Mike’s dedication intensifies. He needs to bring Sicily home for Beth…but also for the future he wants with them.

  “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

  Beth’s expression was as solemn as her words. And Mike felt the urge to lighten the moment.

  “Hounded you, you mean?” He offered a crooked smile.

  To his astonishment, she returned a genuine one. “Even that. You did it for Sicily. That was what was really important. That you thought about her first. I could tell you cared. That meant a lot to me.”

  He was reeling from the smile. It lit her face to real beauty. He wondered what she’d look like when she was truly happy.

  He tuned back in to notice that awareness had flared in her eyes.

  “Why are you looking at me like that?” She was almost whispering.

  “Your smile…” He cleared his throat. “I was wondering what you look like when you’re happy.”

  Some bleak knowledge stole most expression from her face. “I’m not very often. With Sicily, I’ve been feeling my way.” Even more softly, she finished, “I want to be.”

  He held out his hand and surprised himself by a naked truth he hadn’t known until this minute. “I want to be, too.”

  Dear Reader,

  This book was an interesting challenge for me, because I’ve never written one that took place in such a short period of time. I had to ask myself: can a woman suffering serious emotional damage from childhood abuse learn to love in only one week? Can the hero, who has grieved for his dead son for eight long years, discover so quickly that a particular woman makes him ready to move on? What about the little girl, raised by a troubled, drug-addicted mother who died only a month ago? She’s only ten—how much self-understanding can she arrive at so quickly?

  My theory has always been that we change when under pressure—in this case, the more pressure the better. And boy, did I apply it! Beth Greenway has convinced herself that she doesn’t feel very much...but her sister’s death and the addition of Sicily to her life awakens memories, shame, guilt and regret—and the first trickle of hope. When Sicily vanishes from an innocent outing to the beach, Beth’s facade cracks. The cracks widen when it becomes apparent that the police suspect her of killing this child, or at least of conspiring in her kidnapping. The relentless pressure put on her by Detective Mike Ryan—who is also, strangely, kinder to her than anyone ever has been—finally shatters Beth. As for Sicily, there’s nothing like being a hostage, knowing she can only depend on herself, to make a frightened girl realize her own strength. And for Mike, the hope of saving Sicily may redeem him.

  Answer: a whole lot can happen in one suspenseful, gut-wrenching week. In the end, I loved writing Making Her Way Home, and truly believe in the happiness these three troubled people find. I hope you believe, too!

  Janice Kay Johnson

  P.S. I enjoy hearing from readers! Please contact me c/o Harlequin Books, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Toronto, ON

  M3B 3K9, Canada.

  Making Her

  Way Home

  Janice Kay Johnson

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  The author of more than sixty books for children and adults, Janice Kay Johnson writes Harlequin Superromance novels about love and family—about the way generations connect and the power our earliest experiences have on us throughout life. Her 2007 novel Snowbound won a RITA® Award from Romance Writers of America for Best Contemporary Series Romance. A former librarian, Janice raised two daughters in a small rural town north of Seattle, Washington. She loves to read and is an active volunteer and board member for Purrfect Pals, a no-kill cat shelter.

  Books by Janice Kay Johnson

  HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

  1454—SNOWBOUND

  1489—THE MAN BEHIND THE COP

  1558—SOMEONE LIKE HER

  1602—A MOTHER’S SECRET

  1620—MATCH MADE IN COURT

  1644—CHARLOTTE’S HOMECOMING*

  1650—THROUGH THE SHERIFF’S EYES*

  1674—THE BABY AGENDA

  1692—BONE DEEP

  1710—FINDING HER DAD

  1736—ALL THAT REMAINS

  1758—BETWEEN LOVE AND DUTY**

  1764—FROM FATHER TO SON**

  1770—THE CALL OF BRAVERY**

  HARLEQUIN ANTHOLOGY

  A MOTHER’S LOVE “Daughter of the Bride”

  SIGNATURE SELECT SAGA

  DEAD WRONG

  *The Russell Twins

  **A Brother’s Word

  Other titles by this author available in ebook format.

  This one’s for you, Sarah,

  for all those mostly patient pats on the back I so need, not to mention for the plotting ideas—the “something weird” was the spark that allowed me to finish this book.

  Love you! Mom

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  EXCERPT

  CHAPTER ONE

  EVEN AS SHE AWAKENED SLOWLY, Beth Greenway felt the first pang of unease. The sun was warm on her face, which was strange since she never slept in the daytime. Whatever she was lying on wasn’t very comfortable. Instead of immediately opening her eyes, she listened to distant voices—conversations, shrieks of delight, laughs.

  Pebbles. That’s what she seemed to be lying on. Puzzlement sharpened her brain and she opened her eyes to the sight of the sun and a glimpse of twisted gray driftwood.

  She was at the beach. She and her niece, Sicily, had brought a picnic. Sicily had found some other kids to play with, and Beth read a paperback thriller until her eyes got so heavy she’d laid back and closed them.

  That’s why she felt uneasy—she hadn’t meant to fall asleep. Sitting up, Beth quickly scanned the beach, searching for the ten-year-old. Sicily surely had the sense not to go far. The tide was on its way in, but there was still a wet, slick expanse of beach tide pools. A cluster of children crouched, gazing into one, but none of them had Sicily’s bright blond hair.

  The parents of the kids she’d been playing with had laid out their blanket over there…but the blanket and parents were gone.

  Now she was on her feet, her head turning. Where on earth had Sicily gone? Beth snatched a
glance at her watch and was reassured to see that she hadn’t been asleep for more than half an hour. Inexcusable if her niece had been younger, but Sicily was, thank goodness, astonishingly self-sufficient. She’d had to be, with such an undependable mother.

  Beth walked first north, then south on the beach, scanning each group, scrutinizing the beachgoers reading or strolling above the waterline. Her heart had begun to hammer. Was Sicily trying to scare her? Beth couldn’t imagine. No, it was more logical to think it hadn’t occurred to her niece that she needed to keep any adult in her life informed about her plans. It was new to her to have someone trying to establish rules.

  She might have walked up the trail to the wooded land above. Hadn’t they seen a sign for a nature trail? That made sense, Beth thought on a surge of what she wanted to be relief.

  But she hesitated. If Sicily came back and found her gone…

  Beth spotted a group of older teenagers listening to music and talking near where she’d been snoozing. She jogged up to them.

  “Excuse me.” Her breath came in choppy pants. “I can’t find my ten-year-old niece. She’s blonde, wearing red shorts and a white T-shirt. Have you seen her?” In unison, all five shook their heads. “Will you be here for a few minutes?” she begged. “That’s my blanket right there. I’m going to check the nature trail to see if she went up there. If she comes looking for me, will you tell her I’ll be back soon?”

  “Sure,” one of the girls said. “Do you need help looking for her?”

  Surprised by the offer, she said, “As long as one of you stays here, I’d be really grateful if any of you are willing to look. Sicily is about this tall….” She held up her hand. “Skinny, long-legged. She was playing with some other kids and I guess I fell asleep.”

  Two of the girls stood up. “We’ll look,” the first one said. “There are lots of places to hide along here.”

  “Thank you.” Beth began running, her searching gaze moving nonstop. She’d see Sicily any minute; she’d probably gone too far down the beach, or up the trail, or…maybe she’d needed to use the restroom the state park provided.

  Beth went there first, pushing open the heavy door on the women’s side. “Sicily?” she called. “Are you here?”

  Nobody was in the restroom. Beth raced to her car; her niece wasn’t waiting at it.

  Back to the nature trail, which according to the sign was half a mile long. Half a mile didn’t take Beth long to cover if she jogged the entire loop. She asked the few people she passed if they’d seen a ten year old girl in red shorts, but no one had.

  Oh, God, she thought, please let her be there when I get back. As she rushed back down the trail to the beach, Beth comforted herself by rehearsing how she’d scold Sicily. The moment she stepped onto the pebbly beach, she saw her blanket and the group of teenagers. There was no child with them.

  She felt the first wash of real fear.

  * * *

  MIKE RYAN FROWNED AS HE DROVE, thinking about the interview he’d just conducted. The home owners had suffered a major loss. Mike had taken the case from the first responder, a patrol officer. Nobody in the detective’s division would have gotten involved if this had been a garden variety break-in, with maybe a plasma TV, a laptop, a digital camera stolen. This one was bigger than that. A window into the family room at the back of the house had been broken and, yeah, TV, DVD player, Nintendo, camera and two iPods were reported stolen. More significantly, a locked metal outbuilding had been stripped of some heavy equipment the husband used in a landscaping business. The Komatsu dozer alone was insured for $37,000, never mind the attachments. There’d also been a commercial quality aerator, stump grinder, a couple of tillers, chain saws and more. Two flatbed trailers parked outside the building were gone, too. The loss added up to $200,000 easy.

  Detectives in this rural Washington State county handled a mix of cases, from fraud and theft to rape, assault and murder. Mike had a dozen active cases already, and at least another dozen not-so-active ones that stayed in the back of his mind in hopes a break came.

  He’d have to go back later in the day when neighbors were home to find out if anyone had seen or heard anything. Supposedly the home owners had been away for a weeklong visit to see their daughter in Ocean Shores. The house, a 3,500-square-foot faux Tudor with a three-car garage as well as the 2,000-square-foot metal outbuilding, sat on a five-acre wooded parcel. The buildings were visible neither from the road nor the neighbors’ houses, which were also situated on five-acre parcels. It would be pure luck to find someone who happened to see either of the flatbed trailers being hauled away.

  Mike was pretty damn sure he was being played, and he didn’t like it. Right now, he was heading back into the station, where he would begin delving into the finances of J. N. Sullivan Landscaping Services. He had a suspicion he was going to find the business was in trouble. So much trouble, a nice insurance payoff would be an easy way for Mr. John Sullivan to take his retirement. Especially since he’d likely sold all that heavy equipment, and would thereby double his return once the insurance company paid out.

  The radio crackled on and off as Mike drove, all routine inquiries and requests. “Possible missing child at Henrik Beach County Park.” He was caught by the note of urgency in the dispatcher’s voice. “Ten years old, last seen an hour or more ago. Park ranger search failed to turn up the child. Any nearby units please respond.”

  Oh, hell. If there was one thing that rubbed Mike raw, it was people who didn’t keep a sharp eye on their kids in potentially dangerous situations. A park that combined a mile of Puget Sound waterfront, crumbling bluffs, a forest and a whole lot of strangers met that criteria. And by happenstance he was less than a mile from the park. In a county as sprawling as this one, it might take fifteen minutes to half an hour for a patrol response. He reached for his radio to gave his location and ETA.

  Not ten minutes later, he was getting the story from the park ranger, a short, wiry woman in her forties with weathered skin.

  “Maybe we brought you in too quick, but I’d rather that than make the mistake of wasting time.”

  “That’s our preference,” he agreed. “Sounds like you’ve done the basic search.”

  She nodded. “We need help.”

  “All right. I’m going to put in a preliminary call to search-and-rescue, then let me talk to the aunt.”

  He knew the local head of the volunteer group and, when Vic Levine said he could have the first few searchers there within fifteen minutes, Mike hesitated. Standing by his car in the parking lot, his gaze moved slowly over the density of the old growth forest past the picnic ground. As county parks went, this was a big one, including a campground, as well as the picnic area, several trails and the beach. He didn’t like to think about how many people were in the park at this moment, never mind the ones that had come and gone as the sun moved overhead and the girl’s aunt failed to notice she was missing.

  “Make the calls,” he said. “Better safe than sorry.”

  “Good enough.”

  The ranger, who had introduced herself as Lynne Kerney, was waiting to lead Mike down to the beach. He followed, taking in the scrubby coastal foliage clinging to the bluff, the tumbles of driftwood, the tide that must be starting to come in. There were people all over the beach, most of them wandering or scrambling over the gray logs.

  Ranger Kerney turned toward him. “Most every adult here is looking for Sicily.”

  There was one woman who wasn’t searching. She stood beside a blanket maybe a hundred yards from where the trail they were on let out onto the gravelly beach. As he watched, she turned slowly in a circle, her arms wrapped herself as if she were cold. Or containing fear? But from this distance he didn’t see any on her face.

  He wasn’t surprised when Lynne Kerney led him straight toward the woman. Anger began to burn inside him as the coals in his gut ignited. H
er niece was missing and all she could do was stand there looking a little agitated, as if this were on the scale of discovering she had a run in her pantyhose or a button was off the blouse she’d intended to wear that day.

  She was facing them long before they reached her. Her eyes fastened first on the ranger, then him, flickering from his face to the badge and gun he wore on his belt.

  “You haven’t found her?” She even sounded cool. No, that wasn’t fair—she was worried, all right, but hadn’t lost her composure. Mike couldn’t imagine not being utterly terrified by this time.

  “I’m afraid not,” the ranger said. “Ms. Greenway, this is Detective Ryan with the county sheriff’s department. He’s called in search-and-rescue.”

  “The first volunteers should be here in ten minutes or so,” he said. “It’s great so many people are already helping, but these folks are trained to search systematically. If your niece is in the park, we’ll find her.”

  She swallowed, he did see that. A reaction of some sort. “If only I hadn’t fallen asleep,” she said softly.

  If only were two of the ugliest words in the English language, especially when spoken by an adult who’d been negligent where a child was concerned. His slow burn was gathering force, ready to jump the fire line.

  Not yet, he cautioned himself. People didn’t all react the same to fear or grief or any other strong emotion. He knew that. This woman might be holding herself together by the thinnest of threads. If he severed it and she got hysterical, he might not get answers.

  “Your name?” he asked.

  “What? Oh. Beth Greenway. Elizabeth.”

  “And is your niece also a Greenway?”

  “No. Her name is Sicily Marks.”

  He processed that. “Sicily. Like the Italian island?”

  “Yes.” She sounded impatient and he couldn’t blame her.

  Somebody shouted down the beach and they all turned to look. A question was yelled down the line. Did Sicily have a blue-and-white-striped towel?

 
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