VANISHED, A Romantic Suspense Novel (Edgars Family Novel), page 1
Copyright © 2014 by Suzanne Ferrell
Cover Art by Lyndsey Lewellen
Formatting Libris In CAPS
Release date: February 2014
Ferrell, Suzanne (2014), Vanished,
A Romantic Suspense Novel.
All rights reserved to the Author
This book and parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise - without prior written permission of the author and publisher, except as provided by the United States of America copyright law. The only execption is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.
For Jim, the hero who has always been by my side. Thank you for the love, laughter and support throughout this long slow road to and through publication. Having you as my sounding board and cheerleader helps more than you can ever imagine. Your pride in everything I do or attempt to do keeps me going.
It takes a lot of people to make a book complete, especially so with independently published books.
I’d like to think my cover artist, Lyndsey of LLewellen Designs. The whole series is so cool, and this one is PURPLE!
My beta reader Melissa Kelley and critique partner, Sandy Blair who kept this story following the right path and my sanity on just this side of the narrow line into crazyville!
My formatters at Libris in CAPS. Mitch and Alison have done such a great job!
Thank you so much for trying my Indie published book. I understand that there are many options for you to spend your money on and am honored that you chose one of my books. For that reason my team and I strive to put out the best product we can from the awesome cover design through the entire editing and formatting process. For my part, I hope to deliver an entertaining story that keeps you wondering what’s going to happen next.
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Now the important part: Here’s Luke and Abigail’s story. I hope you will love them as much as I did while I was writing VANISHED.
Table of Contents
The Edgars Family Novels
Other Suzanne Ferrell Books...
A Romantic Suspense Novel
The acrid odor of liquid copper hit Abigail Whitson as she pushed open the condo’s unlocked door. The smell roused memories of pain and dread.
Her heartbeat leapt into double-time.
She dropped her overnight bag just inside the doorway, and pushed the condo’s door open farther. The parking lot’s light lit the entrance, casting shadows down the length of the long hallway in front of her. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her 9mm Glock and gently clicked a bullet into the chamber. This was the first time she’d used the thing outside the firing range since she finished her training five years ago. She fought to control the trembling in her arms and hands as she held the weapon.
“Brianna?” She called from the foyer.
Where was she? Her oldest friend had called, asking her to fly from D.C. to Cleveland. Brianna wanted to meet with her here at her townhouse to talk about some irregularities she’d found at the company where she worked. As self-centered as most of Brianna’s faults were, tardiness wasn’t among them.
As Abigail’s eyes adjusted to the shadows, she glanced down to see a rusty trail smeared over the hallway’s expensive Italian-marble tiles. It led from the doorway farther back into the townhouse toward a dim light.
She inhaled deeply, sucking in the cool spring air. The sweet scent of hyacinth from the flowerbed just outside the door mixed with the lingering metal one in her nose. A wave of nausea washed over her. With a trembling hand, she covered her nose and mouth. She inhaled and exhaled slowly in an effort to stop the threat of revisiting her bad airline meal.
Don’t lose your lunch here, Abigail. You’re a Treasury agent, and it wouldn’t be good form.
Technically that was true. Even if she’d never spent one day in the field away from her accounting and support duties, at least her government-issued license said she was a trained agent for the United States Treasury Department.
Now she wished she’d followed protocol and waited until the lead investigator for the department’s Columbus division had contacted her before heading to Brianna’s home. At the time, however, she’d assumed her friend needed her expert skills in investigative accounting, but was in no physical danger. Seeing no need to wait at the airport for the field agent, she’d simply left the address on the cell number she’d been given and grabbed a taxi.
Now she had no choice but to proceed on her own. Carefully, she stepped farther into the condo’s hallway and along the side of it to avoid disturbing what she suspected was dried blood on the tiles.
As she moved past the darkened kitchen and great room in the condo’s front, she pressed herself against the hallway wall, pointed her gun into the darkened area and tried to see if anything moved. Nothing did. She moved to the other side and slid further down the hall, passing one bedroom, then another. Her arms ached from the effort to control their trembling.
She supposed she should check out every room, but for her first building search she might as well start with the already lit one.
Not really. She might be inexperienced but she wasn’t stupid. It was a practical move. If nothing jumped out at her on the way to the living room, she’d just begin there and work her way back out.
“Brianna?” she called again, hoping to get an answer as she neared the room at the hall’s end.
The hum of a computer modem broke the eerie
The room lay in shambles. The stuffing erupted from the deep knife slashes in the couch cushions. Drawers of the desk and built-in entertainment center stood open, their contents strewn about like an indoor tornado had whipped through the room. The lamps lay in shattered pieces on the floor, except for the one in the corner, which lit the mayhem.
Abigail expected to find a body, either injured or dead among the mess. Thank God there wasn’t one. Her relief was short lived as she saw the large pool of congealed blood that had soaked into the room’s hand-woven Persian rug.
What on earth had Brianna gotten herself into this time?
A click sounded behind her.
Abigail froze in place. Her heartbeat pounded in her ear.
“So, Abby, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” said a distinctly familiar, taunting voice from behind her.
Abigail swallowed the scream she’d been fighting and stiffened her shoulders.
Great. Just what she needed. The last man on the planet she ever wanted to see again.
Her eyes narrowed as she slowly turned, pointing her weapon at the man behind her. The light from the parking lot cast an intimidating silhouette of him as he stepped farther into the room so she could see him, then he leaned casually against the wall. He hadn’t changed in the last five years. He still moved with the grace of an expensive sports car on a clogged freeway. Sleek and dangerous, just waiting for the opportunity to pounce on an opening and hit its top speed.
“Hello, Luke.” She fought to keep her voice neutral. “Let me guess. You’re the district field agent.”
* * * * *
Luke Edgars ground his teeth. Pissed didn’t even begin to describe his current mood. His mission to Southeast Asia had yielded no new information on his current military espionage case. The trip home had been long and boring, and the man seated beside him had smelled of five-day-old body odor and bad cologne, giving Luke a nagging headache just behind his eyes. Then, at his layover in St. Louis, his boss had ordered him to divert to Cleveland, instead of his home base of Columbus, to baby-sit a desk agent who might’ve stumbled onto a federal tax fraud case. And at the airport, instead of finding a nervous novice, he’d received a text message telling him to meet the agent at this address.
He hadn’t thought his week could get any worse. Boy, was he wrong.
Seeing this particular woman—looking very much like the accountant she was, dressed in her loose-fitting blue suit, white blouse, and sensible shoes—holding a gun pointed right at his chest didn’t do anything to improve his mood. “You want to put that thing away before someone gets hurt?”
“I do know how to handle a gun,” Abby said, pointing the gun at the floor.
He pushed himself away from the wall. No longer a target, he walked into the room, careful not to disturb any possible evidence, his own weapon pointed at the floor. “Whose place is this?”
“Brianna Mathews. My college roommate.”
A slight catch in Abby’s voice drew his attention away from the chaotic mess in the room and back to her. In the dim lamp light he saw the glistening tears in her green eyes.
Dammit. He didn’t want to see her cry. Not again. Distraction. That’s what he needed. Distraction for both of them. “Did you secure the other rooms?”
The embarrassment that crossed her features, followed quickly by the firm set to her lips told him she hadn’t, even before the word no escaped her lips.
“Dammit, Abby. Did you forget all your training?”
“I was going to work my way back out.”
He gave her a skeptical look then edged back into the hall, signaling her to stop when she moved to follow him. “Stay there. And try not to touch anything. Remember it’s a real crime scene, not an exercise we played back in Georgia.”
Her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed into a thinner line, but she didn’t move a muscle.
Luke turned away and lifted his weapon out in front of him, pausing a moment. Tension gripped his neck, back and shoulders. He waited to see if she’d put a bullet between them. Wouldn’t blame her if she did.
When no deafening sound blasted through the night and no searing pain ripped through him, he exhaled and inhaled. Apparently, Abby had learned to control that temper of hers in the past five years.
Slowly he stepped back into the hall to the first doorway. This was probably overkill, since all the noise she’d made on entering the premises and their own conversation would’ve alerted anyone still in the place, but he needed to be sure they were alone. He also needed some distance between them.
Of all the people he expected to find standing in the center of a crime scene, Abby Whitson wasn’t among them. Hell, she hadn’t even been on his radar, let alone on his short list of possible agents. Seeing her again slammed memories into him of the last night he’d seen her. For nearly five years he’d managed to put the horror-stricken look on her face into a neatly closed compartment in his memory’s deepest recesses. Now he’d have to face what happened between them again.
However, first he had to secure her safety. Then he’d deal with the wrath of the one woman he’d never wanted to hurt.
His gun extended, he reached into the first room with the other hand and flicked on the light. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the sudden bright light reflecting off the huge mirror nearly covering the opposite wall of the wrecked bedroom.
The mattresses had been slashed just like the sofa pillows in the living room. The satin coverlet and silk sheets lay in shreds. The dresser drawers had been emptied, their contents strewn across the floor. Whoever had taken Abby’s friend had searched every corner in here.
He moved farther into the room, checking out the closet. The cloying scent of an Asian perfume, probably worth thousands of dollars, clogged the air in the tiny space. Silks, satins, furs—all lay scattered across the floor. Boxes of letters tossed on the pile’s top. Even the suitcase lay emptied, the sides slashed open.
Whoever they are, these guys are thorough.
Framed pictures of a strikingly beautiful blonde littered the dressers and nightstands next to the bed. Abby’s friend liked men. Lots of them. Each picture had her posed with a different man—old, young, white, black—never the same one twice.
How had prim and proper Abby gotten a friend like this?
* * * * *
Abigail’s trigger finger itched to tighten and take aim at the center of Luke’s back as she watched him retrace his steps down the dark hallway. She clenched her eyes shut and counted to ten, then counted to twenty.
I will not kill a fellow agent. I will not kill a fellow agent.
She repeated her old mantra several more times. After five years of extreme professionalism, two minutes in Luke’s company and she’d reverted right back to the insecure trainee, easily goaded by his arrogant confidence.
Opening her eyes, she watched him stalk away. His leather jacket stretched tight across his shoulders, his gun arm stretched out in front of him. The black linen pants clung to his buttocks and thighs, and even in the dim light she saw the details of his powerful muscles as he moved.
She let out an exasperated breath then turned back to the living room’s chaos once more. Admiring Luke’s back side and wishing to kill him at the same time were not her priority. Finding out what happened to Brianna—why, how, and who did it were important now.
Abigail forced herself to concentrate on the disarray in front of her. Her body stilled, and she studied the room, inch by inch. Just like a crime scene photographer, with her eye as her camera, she divided the room into sections, starting closest to her and sweeping in a clockwise fashion. Her mind clicked off mental pictures, cataloging every detail, no matter how innocuous. Later, when she was alone, she’d review each scene in her mind for details.
Finished, she edged her way through the mess on the floor, careful not to step on anything—especially the pooled blood and blo
The number of men’s names on her friend’s itinerary surprised her. She knew men were attracted to Brianna, but she had no clue just how many her friend dated at a time. One name, Dylan, popped up more frequently than the others.
A noise behind her alerted her that Luke had exited the first bedroom and was moving further down the hall. She quickly flipped the pages back to the original spot. No need to let Luke know she’d been snooping in there. Her ability to photographically remember any image she wanted was a closely guarded secret. One she didn’t intend to share with an adversary such as Luke Edgars. Once she was alone, she’d look for a pattern in all the information.
Hoping to find something useful on Brianna’s computer, Abigail used the end of her pen to wiggle the mouse to stop the screen-saver pattern of fake fish floating around.
Great. The first window open was a screen full of head shots on an adult dating site. You couldn’t leave me some clue or file, Brianna? Something more helpful than pictures and statistics of young women? And why women, not men? Strange research for such a heterosexual as Brianna.
Tucking the odd thought in the back of her mind, she minimized the screen. A map with pinpoints on them, but no tags. Behind that screen she found one with shipping dates from her company. What was Brianna doing? Did any of this have to do with the phone call asking—no, demanding—she come to Cleveland today?
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