About the Author
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"Margaret Slade, you said? You've seen her?" Dan nodded as Jace whistled silently. Maggie Slade had vanished more than eighteen months ago in suspicious circumstances. Although he had never stopped looking for her, he had all but given up hope of ever finding her. Alive, anyway.
"Yes, Officer." The caller's voice quavered. In Dan's mind, he was picturing someone's sweet white-haired granny. "I went to the post office two days ago. Maybe three. I saw some of them missing persons flyers. I thought one of them looked real familiar. It wasn't until this mornin' when my neighbor was puttin' out her trash that I realized it was her."
"Are you sure? How long has she lived there?" Calm down, Dan reminded himself. This could be another dead end. Dan couldn't help it, though. Hope rose up in his soul.
"She's not the real owner. Name's Mary Connors. Hair's different than the photo, and she keeps to herself. She moved in almost a year ago, renting, I suppose. I would go ask her, but her car's not in the driveway."
"If she does return, please don't confront her with your suspicions. And don't let on that you've talked to the police."
The caller agreed, her tone colored with reluctance. People loved to get involved in police business. Especially if they felt they could accept some of the credit. Maybe he was cynical, but he'd seen it happen before.
Dan quickly took down the address and hung up, his adrenaline flowing. Jace leaned over his shoulder to peer at the address. When Jace reached down to pick up the paper, the plain gold wedding band on his left hand flashed as the morning sunlight streaming through the window caught it.
"Huh. Never heard of the place," he mused.
"I have," Dan told him. "It's right outside of Pittsburgh. Big enough to get lost in, but small enough to not feel like a city. Chief?"
Paul nodded. "Yeah, it's pretty quiet here today. You go ahead and check this out. But do it quietly. If she gets any clue we might be onto her, she might take off again."
Unasked was the question of why was she still in hiding. Maggie had been a juror in a high-profile murder trial almost six years earlier. Some of the jurors had been murdered a year and a half ago. Maggie had disappeared. Did she know she was safe now? That the murderers had been caught? Or was she hiding for another reason altogether?
"Would you call Chief Garraway?" Dan threw over his shoulder as he headed out of the room. The LaMar Pond department he belonged to now had been collaborating with his old precinct in Pittsburgh on the case. Although Maggie was from LaMar Pond, their past three leads had taken them to Pittsburgh. The two precincts had decided that it was in the best interests of all involved if they worked together. Dan had taken the position as the liaison. He caught Paul's nod. Good. He was outta here.
Two and a half hours later, he coasted down the quiet suburban street. His right foot hovered over the brake pedal, ready to tap it at a moment's notice. Leaning forward in his seat, he narrowed his eyes as he scanned the house numbers: 52414 52416 There! 52418 Cherry Lane. That was it. The driveway was still empty. Turning the wheel, he parked his unmarked car on the opposite side of the road. To keep him from looking suspicious, he pulled a map out of the side pocket of the door as a prop and spread it out over the steering wheel. Then he waited.
A yawn caught him by surprise. It figured. He should have known his insomnia would catch up with him. He took a sip of coffee from his travel mug. Hopefully the caffeine would help him remain alert. In an effort to keep himself busy, he reviewed the facts of the case.
The anonymous caller had claimed she recognized Maggie Slade from the missing persons flyers in the post office. There was always the chance she was mistaken. It had happened before. The picture used in the flyers had been from her passport. It was at least three years old. Lots of changes could have happened in that time. He planned to be cautious.
The one fact that kept going around in his mind was that the caller had reported that the woman in question was known as Mary Connors. Not very original. Anyone who was really interested could find out that Maggie's full name was Margaret Mary Slade. And that her mother had been Anna O'Connor before she married. Nope, it didn't take a detective to figure out how she had come by the alias. Now all he had to do was sit back and wait for her to appear.
Dan sat still, his eyes vigilant. He scanned the street and then turned his narrowed gaze back on the house, checking for any sort of movement. A car turned onto the street. He kept his posture casual, even though he wanted to sit forward. No use giving himself away.
The car was at least eight years old, a dark blue four-door sedan. Nothing fancy. In fact, no one would look twice at it. It passed him. He put his cell phone to his ear and moved a finger along the map. Anyone looking at him would think he was trying to get directions.
A car backfired. Dan jumped, bumping his head on the roof.
"Idiot. It's just a car. Not a gun," he muttered, disgusted with himself. He hadn't always jumped at loud noises. Just since his second tour in Afghanistan. For a brief moment, his heart sped up as he recalled a burning house. A woman's voice shrieking through the flames. His gut churned. No. He refused to be drawn into thinking about the past. He had a job to do. He forced himself to focus his attention on the vehicle approaching.
The car slowed, stopped briefly and then continued to swerve into the driveway.
Dan ran the license plate number through the database. The vehicle was registered to a Miss Wendy Stroup. The owner of the house. A registered nurse. Her background check showed nothing shady. He scanned the picture of Miss Stroup. Small and blonde, aged twenty-eight. The car door opened. A young woman exited the vehicle. Definitely not Wendy Stroup. It was hard to tell her age, but she could have been twenty-seven. Was that Maggie? Her hair was shoulder length, medium brown. Not the black curls from her photo. Still, hair was easy to change. Her face was thinner than it was in her picture. But was it her?
A jogger made his way down the street. He passed the young woman and tossed her a single wave. She gave him a slight wave and a somewhat forced smile back.
And that was when he knew.
Her smile was the one he'd seen in the pictures of the woman he'd been trying to find for the past eighteen months.
As soon as the jogger passed, the woman hurried to the trunk of her car and lugged out a stroller. A stroller? None of his information suggested a child. She flicked her wrists. The stroller sprang open, and she locked it in place. Whoa. A double stroller. His mouth dropped open as he watched her open the back door of the vehicle. She retrieved one sleeping baby, probably close to a year old, and deposited him in the stroller. Then she repeated the action, this time lifting out a little girl. Before she could place the child in the stroller, the baby girl let out a holler. There was nothing he could do to prevent the grin tugging at his lips. That kid had powerful lungs. Even with the windows up, he could hear her. Maggie's tense face softened. She pulled a pacifier out of a diaper bag and plopped it into the child's mouth. Peace resumed. She snuggled the baby close for a few seconds, then dropped a light kiss on her head and placed her in the stroller.
Her movements grew jerky. Agitated. The woman was nervous. If she was in hiding, she might feel exposed out in the open like this. He would. She pushed the stroller at a jog up the driveway and around the back of the house. A minute later, the blinds in the front window twitched.
He sent off a brief text to Paul, letting him know what was happening.
Chief Garraway would be interested in the developments of this case, seeing as he was in her jurisdiction. Knowing how much she detested texting, he dialed her personal cell number. He knew if he dialed the office number, it would probably go to her voice mail.
She answered on the second ring.
"Willis here, Chief," he identified himself. "I found her."
He could hear Chief Garraway suck in a breath. "Is she alive?"
"Yes, ma'am. But it seems we were missing some information."
"What information, Willis? Don't play games. Just spit it out."
Dan grimaced. Better just say it and weather the explosion.
"She has a couple of babies with her. Twins." Silence. That didn't bode well. Then Chief Gar-raway's voice exploded across the line.
"Twins! We checked all the hospitals, didn't we? How could a juror from a high-profile case go missing for over a year, then waltz into a hospital, give birth to twins, then walk out again without us being any the wiser? Can you explain that to me, Lieutenant?"
Dan sighed. "No, Chief. I can't explain it."
"Are they hers?"
"I can't say for sure, ma'am, but my gut says yeah, they're hers. I haven't made contact yet."
"All right. Keep me posted." She ended the call.
Dan leaned over slightly and slid his phone into the back pocket of his jeans. His hair fell over his eyes. He shook his head, knocking the hair back. He'd never intended to let it grow this long. It was starting to annoy him, so he'd probably cut it when this case was over. He'd probably shave his short beard, too. Right now he had a job to do. Time to meet Miss Maggie and find out why she had disappeared all those months ago.
He reached back and grabbed a leather jacket from the rear seat and put it on. Zipped, it hid the holster with his service revolver. He set off at a casual stroll. Remembering Maggie's secretive posture, he walked around to the back door. He might have a better shot at getting her to open her door if she didn't feel as though any passersby could see them talking.
The back door was opened a crack. That was surprising. A woman that wary, he would have assumed she'd have the door shut and bolted.
A scream inside the house jolted him from his thoughts. A woman's scream. Followed by the distinct sound of a slap. The woman cried out in pain.
"Where is it hidden?" This was a man's voice, speaking in a menacing snarl.
Dan broke into a run and burst into the house. Two people were locked in a furious struggle.
With a cry, the woman shoved her elbow into the man's abdomen. He grunted and his hold loosened. She broke away. Her assailant grabbed a fistful of her brown hair and yanked.
Her hair fell off. She had been wearing a wig.
"Police!" Dan yelled, holding his service revolver in front of him. The assailant jerked around and immediately switched targets. Thrusting Maggie aside, he lunged at Dan with a bellow, a large hunting knife in one hand. Dan aimed but was unable to shoot without risking hitting Maggie. In seconds, the assailant was upon him, the wicked knife catching the light as it slashed down.
A burning sensation in his side alerted Dan that he had been stabbed. No time to worry about that now. His attacker was strong but clearly had no training. Dan, on the other hand, had specialized military trainingtraining he hadn't needed to use in several years. But now it kicked in as automatically as if a switch had been flipped. In short order, he had the attacker handcuffed and seated on the ground while he called in to the station to report the situation.
He was aware of Maggie running to check on the children still strapped in the stroller. Listening to the dispatcher, he twisted around to watch her. Maggie had taken a protective stance in front of the stroller, her glare hot and fierce. A grin threatened to form at her resemblance to a protective mama bear. He squelched it. Pretty sure she wouldn't appreciate it in the current situation.
"I'm sending a black-and-white to your location, Lieutenant Willis," the slightly nasal voice of the dispatcher informed him.
"Glad to hear it. Tell them to come around to the back door." Dan snapped his phone shut and slipped it into his back pocket. That done, he turned to face the woman he had been searching forMaggie Slade, aka Mary Connors. Her black curls were starting to slip from the bobby pins. Her skin was pale, but her dark blue eyes were alert. Close up he couldn't believe he had doubted it was her.
"Maggie, I'm Lieutenant Dan Willis with the LaMar Pond Police Department. I've been searching for you for a long time."
It hardly seemed possible, but her face paled further.
Maggie retreated several steps before realizing there was no place to run. No way to grab her babies and escape. She was trapped.
The jogger, a man who had been waving at her for weeks, was sitting on the floor, handcuffed, cursing and spewing ugly threats at her. He had followed her into the house, sneaked in while she had been setting the brake on the stroller and then attacked. If it hadn't been for the policeman standing in front of her, she was certain she would have been killed. Her eyes went to the knife lying on the floor. She shuddered.
She had been saved by a cop. A cop from LaMar Pond. It could be a trick. Cops were clever. She didn't know which ones she could trust. Was this cop one of the good guys? Or was he connected to the man who had killed Phillip?
The cop glared at the man sitting on the floor. "You can stop that right now. I m gonna read you your rights, and then you're going for a ride to jail. So you can sit and think about the error of your ways."
Maggie was shocked when her would-be killer obeyed, although his eyes continued to shoot pure venom at Maggie and her rescuer.
What was the cop's name again? Williams?
"Detective Williams," she began but stopped when he shook his head.
"Willis, ma'am. Lieutenant Willis." He moved his right arm but suddenly sucked in a breath and winced. He lifted his elbow away from his body, angling his head so he could look at his side. His leather jacket gaped open. That's when she noticed the blood seeping from a wound on his right side.
"You're hurt! Did he stab you?" Her eyes flicked from the offending knife back to his side. The stain was spreading across his T-shirt. An ugly chuckle sounded from the attacker. Both Maggie and Lieutenant Willis ignored the man. It was difficult to see the extent of the injury because of the leather jacket he wore. "I didn't hear you call for an ambulance."
A fleeting expression crossed his faceannoyance, embarrassment?before it once again smoothed out.
"I'll take care of it, ma'am. No need for you to worry about it."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than he swayed. Maggie leaped forward, grabbed his left arm and hauled him over to a chair. Relying on her first-aid training, she grabbed a towel from the basket of clean laundry on the kitchen table. She used the towel to apply firm pressure to the wound.
"Hold this," she ordered him.