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Excerpt for ABANDONED

HQN
January 2012
Genre: Romantic Suspense


Read an Excerpt

From Million Dollar Baby:

The dog stuck his wet nose in Chandra’s face. He whined and nuzzled her jaw.

“Go ‘way,” Chandra grumbled, squeezing her eyes shut. She burrowed deeper into the pillows, hoping Sam would get the message, but Sam didn’t give up. The persistent retriever clawed at her covers and barked loudly enough to wake the neighbors ten miles down the road. “Knock it off, Sam!” Irritated, she yanked a pillow over her head and rolled over. But she was awake now and couldn’t ignore Sam’s whining and pacing along the rail of the loft; the metal licenses from his collar rattled noisily.

When she didn’t respond, he snorted loudly and padded quickly down the stairs, whereupon he barked again.

So he had to go out, “You should’ve thought of this earlier.” Reluctantly, Chandra pulled herself into a sitting position and shoved a handful of hair from her eyes. She shivered a little and, yawning, rubbed her arms.

Sam barked excitedly, and she considered letting him out and leaving him on the porch. As Indian summer faded into autumn, the nighttime temperature had begun to dip toward freezing. “It would serve you right,” she said ungraciously as she glanced at the clock on the table near the bed. One forty-three. Still plenty of time to fall asleep again before the alarm clock was set to go off.

Grumbling under her breath, she had leaned over and was reaching under the bed, feeling around for her boots, when she heard it: the sound that had filtered through her dreams and pierced her subconscious over Sam’s insistent barking. The noise, a distant wail, reminded Chandra of the hungry cry of a baby or the noise a Siamese cat would make if it were in pain. Chandra’s skin crawled.

You’re imagining things! she told herself. She was miles from civilization . . .

The cry, distant and muffled, broke the silence again. Chandra sat bolt upright in bed. Her heart knocked crazily. Clutching the quilt around her shoulders, she swung her feet to the floor and crossed the worn wood planks to the railing, where she could look down and survey the first floor of the cabin.

Moonlight streamed through the windows, and a few embers glowed behind the glass doors of the wood stove. Otherwise the cabin was cloaked in darkness that night brought to this isolated stretch of the woods.

She could barely see Sam. His whiskey-colored coat blended into the shadows as he paced beside the door, alternately whining and growling as he scratched on the threshold.

“So now you’re Lassie, is that ?” she aked. “Telling me that there’s something out there.”

He yelped back.

“This is nuts. Hush, Sam,” Chandra commanded, her skin prickling as her eyes adjusted to the shadows. Straining to listen, she reached for the pair of old jeans she’d tossed carelessly across the foot of the bed hours earlier. The familiar noises in this little cabin in the foothills hadn’t changed. From the ticking of the grandfather clock to the murmur of the wind rushing through the boughs of the pine and aspen that surrounded the cabin, the sounds of the Colorado night were as comforting as they had always been. The wind chimes on her porch tinkled softly, and the leaky faucet in the bathroom dripped a steady tattoo.

The cry came again. A chill raced up Chandra’s spine. Was it a baby? No way. Not up here in these steep hills. Her mind was playing tricks on her. Most likely some small beast had been wounded and was in pain – a cat who had strayed or a wounded raccoon . . . maybe even a bear cub separated from its mother . . .

Snarling, Sam started back up the stairs toward her.

“Hold on, hold on.” Chandra yanked on her jeans and stuffed the end of her flannel nightshirt into the waistband. She slid her feet into wool socks and, after another quick search under the bed, crammed her feet into her boots.

Her father’s old .22 was tucked into a corner of the closet. She hesitated, grabbed her down jacket, then curled her fingers over the barrel of the Winchester. Better safe than sorry. Maybe the beast was too far gone and she’d have to put it out of it’s misery. Maybe it was rabid.

And maybe it’s not a beast at all.

By the time she and the retriever crept back downstairs, Sam was nearly out of his mind, barking and growling, ready to take on the world. “Slow down,” Chandra ordered, reaching into the pocket of her jacket, feeling the smooth shells for her .22. She slipped two cartridges into the rifle’s cold chamber.

“Okay, now don’t do anything stupid,” she said to the dog. She considered leaving Sam in the house, for fear that he might be hurt by the wounded, desperate beast, but then again, she felt better with the old dog by her side. If she did stumble upon a lost bear cub, the mother might not be far away or in the best of moods.

As she opened the door, a blast of cool mountain air rushed into the room, billowing curtains and causing the fire to glow brightly. The night wind seemed to have forgotten the warm breath of summer that still lingered during the days.

Clouds drifted across the moon like solitary ghosts, casting shadows on the darkened landscape. The crying hadn’t let up. Punctuated by gasps or hiccups, it grew louder as Chandra marched across the gravel and ignored the fear that stiffened her spine. She headed straight for the barn, to the source of the noise.

The wailing sounded human. But that was insane. She hadn’t heard a baby cry in years . . . and there were no children for miles. Her dreams must have confused her . . . and yet . . .

She opened the latch, slid the barn door open and followed an anxious Sam inside. A horse whinnied, and the smells of dust and saddle soap and dry hay filled her nostrils. Snapping on the light with one hard, she clutched the barrel of the gun with the other.

The horses were nervous. They rustled the straw on the floor of their boxes, snorting and pawing, tossing their dark heads and rolling their eyes as if they, too, were spooked. “It’s all right,” Chandra told them, though she knew that something in the barn was very, very wrong. The crying became louder and louder.

Her throat dry, her rifle held ready, Chandra walked carefully to the end stall, the only empty box. “What the devil . . . ?” Chandra whispered as she spied a shock of black fur – no, hair – a baby’s downy cap of hair! Chandra’s heart nearly stopped, but she flew into action, laying down the gun, unlatching the stall and kneeling beside the small, swaddled bundle of newborn infant.

From Sail Away:

Marnie Montgomery tossed her briefcase onto the antique couch near the windows of her office. She marched straight to the desk, removed an earring and grabbed the phone. As she punched out her father’s extension, she balanced a hip against the polished rosewood and waited, her fingers drumming impatiently, a headache threatening behind her eyes.

“Victor Montgomery’s office,” a sweet voice sang over the wires. Kate Delany. Efficient Kate. Victor’s mistress and administrative assistant. She’d been with him for years, and hoped to become the next Mrs. Victor Montgomery.

“Is he in?” Marnie asked.

“Not yet. But I expect him any time,” Poor Kate. So helplessly in love with Marnie’s father. Loving Victor was easy, as Marnie could well attest. But sometimes that love became overpowering, and Marnie felt as if she’d lost a part of herself, hadn’t been allowed to grown into the woman she wanted to be.

She heard Kate flip through the pages of what she assumed was Victor’s appointment book. “Your dad called from the course about a half an hour ago,” Kate said thoughtfully. “He should be on his way back here, and it looks as if his schedule isn’t too full this afternoon.”

Marnie’s lungs constricted. She cleared her throat. “Tell him I need to see him the minute he gets in.”

“It’s important?”

“Very,” Marnie replied, replacing the receiver and suddenly feeling cold inside. Slipping her earring back in place, she noticed the expensive furnishings in her office, the thick mauve carpet, the panoramic view of Seattle’s skyline from her corner office. Everything a girl could want.

Except Marnie didn’t want any of it. She didn’t want the forced smiles of the staff, she didn’t want the knowing glances in the coffee room, and she especially didn’t want the engraved brass nameplate that read: MARNIE MONTOGOMERY, PUBLIC RELATIONS. It could just as well have read: VICTOR’S DAUGHTER. The people who worked “for her” in her department could function well without her. Victor had seen to that.

She tossed her pen into her empty In basket. Was it ever full? Were there ever papers and messages overflowing onto the desk? Did she ever have to put in extra hours? Did she even have to come back from lunch? No, no, no, and no!

A nest of butterflies erupted into flight in her stomach at the thought of what she had to do. Rounding the desk she found a piece of letterhead, and rather than have her secretary type her letter of resignation she started writing it out in long hand.

How did one quit being a daughter? she wondered, her brown puckering as she chewed on the end of her pen.

How did she tell a loving father, who had tried all his life to do everything for her, that she felt suffocated?

How could she explain that she had to something on her own, become her own person, live her own life?

Absurdly, she felt an urge to break down and cry tears of frustration, but because that was exactly what the weaker, dependent Marnie would have done, she gritted her teeth, refused to shed one lousy tear and started writing again in quick, sure strokes.

She couldn’t quit being Victor’s daughter, but she sure as hell could quit being dependent upon him.