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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Kate Elliot pressed her cell phone against her ear with her shoulder as she fumbled to open her sister's front door with her spare key. The lock stuck. "My sister I think I think she's been shot."
"What is the location of the emergency, ma'am?"
Kate squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back tears as she gave the woman her sister's address.
"The paramedics are en route now, ma'am."
Thirty seconds later, Kate managed to open the door. She stepped inside the two-story house in the upscale Dallas suburb, her heart pounding. Dora the Explorer giggled on the flat-screen TV in the living room. The normally immaculate house had been completely trashed.
"Rachel!" She screamed out her sister's name.
Kate picked up the remote, froze Dora's character, then called for her sister again, but only an eerie silence greeted her. Trying not to panic, she checked quickly through the downstairs.
There was no sign of her sister.
She headed up the stairs straight for the master bedroom. Like the rest of the house, the room had been trashed. Bedding lay in mounds on the floor, framed photos had been ripped off the walls and dresser drawers dumped onto the floor. Their contents lay strewn across the bloodstained carpetall telltale signs of the horror that had taken place moments before.
Rachel lay still on her back in the middle of the room.
Kate dropped to her knees beside her sister, avoiding a thick shard of glass from a broken mirror, and grasped Rachel's wrist. The monotone beeping from the receiver of the landline vied for attention against a pulse that was steady but weak.
Rachel groaned and opened her eyes.
"Don't move, sweetie. I'm here." Fighting back the tears, Kate wiped off the perspiration that had beaded across Rachel's ashen forehead.
"They broke in through the back door They had guns. It all happened so fast."
"An ambulance is almost here, and they'll get you to the hospital. You're going to be okay, Rachel. I promise."
Kate's gaze shot to her sister's bloodstained dress and realized it was a promise she might not be able to keep. "Rachel, stay with me. Please."
Grabbing a bathrobe off the floor, Kate pressed the fuzzy garment against Rachel's abdomen where the bullet had entered. The white material immediately took on a deep crimson stain.
Oh, God, please don't take her now. Not this way.
Rachel's eyes widened as she gasped for air. "Sophie They took Sophie."
"Sophie's fine, honey. She's with Mom." Kate forced her voice to stay calm despite the sick feeling spreading through her. Rachel had to be mistaken. Sophie spent every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning with Grams. And today was Monday.
But if that was true, why had Dora been on?
Rachel's mouth twisted from the pain. "No Mom couldn't keep her today. Her arthritis is flaring up again."
The walls of Kate's stomach contracted. Surely someone hadn't taken her four-year-old niece. She brushed back a strand of Rachel's auburn hair. "I didn't see her when I came in, but if she's not with Mom, she has to be here somewhere."
Kate glanced at the open door of the bedroom, trying not to imagine what Sophie might have seen. Armed men breaking in and tearing apart the house. Her mother shot. And if they had taken her
"Sophie?" she shouted. "Are you here, sweetie? It's Auntie Kate."
Kate pressed harder against Rachel's wound to try to stop the bleeding, as her mind scrambled to put together a time line. She'd arrived moments after Rachel's call, unclear from her sister's frantic speech as to what had happened, other than the chilling words that she'd been shot.
They shot me, Kit Kat. Hurry please. I can't
The moment she'd stepped into her sister's house, it had been clear that something was terribly wrong. Someone had been here, systematically going through every inch of the house. Looking for something. But what?
The tug to find Sophie grew stronger, but for now, she had no choice but to stay with her sister.
"Rachel, I need you to try to focus for a minute. Who shot you?"
Rachel's gaze narrowed. "Two men."
Kate listened for signs that someone was still in the house, while trying to swallow the terror. "Do you know them?"
Rachel shook her head.
"What about Sophie?"
"They took her." A shriek erupted from Rachel's lips as she fought to sit up. "I know they did. They took my baby."
Kate held Rachel tighter. She had to be mistaken. "Sophie has to be here. What reason would anyone have to take her?"
Rachel's breathing grew raspier. "I don't know." Kate glanced at the window. Where was the ambulance?
"You have to know something, Rachel. They were here, looking for something. What were they looking for?"
"I said I don't know."
Kate frowned. If Sophie was missingand Rachel didn't make itthey were going to need every clue possible to find her. "Try to think. Please. Does this have anything to do with Chad?"
She'd never known Rachel's husband to be abusive, but that didn't mean their marriage had always been amiable.
Kate remembered that Saturday Rachel had met her for lunch and told her not only that she was pregnant, but that she was going to marry the baby's father. Rachel had spent that summer in Europe, traveling with a group of friends, and had fallen for the first Frenchman who'd caught her eye. Kate might not have approved of the relationship, but she'd seen the love Rachel had for Chad and prayed that they'd find a way to make it work.
They'd all hoped for happily-ever-after. But sometimes life didn't turn out that way.
"When I went to see him in Paris he told me he was scared." Rachel choked out the words. "He told me they would do anything to to get what they wanted."
Kate tried to put together the pieces. Rachel had left for Paris three months ago to try to patch up her relationship with her husband, Chad. When she returned, Rachel had distanced herself, never opening up about the trip. Kate had assumed her silence was her way to deal with her failing marriage. Now she realized it had to be much more than that. She'd always feared Chad and Rachel's relationship might one day end in divorce. She'd worried about how Sophie would handle the loss of a father, and how Rachel would cope as a single mom, but she'd never considered the scenario they were facing now. Not the reality of her sister fighting for her life.
"Who are they?" Kate asked. "What do they want?"
Sirens screamed in the distance. "I think he's involved in something illegal," Rachel said.
"He wouldn't tell me."
"Did Chad take Sophie?"
"No, but it could be someone he's involved with."
Flashing lights from the ambulance reflected against the beige walls of the bedroom. Kate heard the front door slam against the foyer wall and shouted to the paramedics to come upstairs.
Rachel gripped Kate's forearm. "Promise promise me you'll find her, Kate. Don't let anything happen to her. Please please, Kate she's all I have."
Kate nodded at her sister. "You know I'll do everything I can. I promise."
The following minutes clicked by like a hazy fog. Kate stood at the edges of the room, watching the paramedics try to stabilize Rachel. She'd already explained to one of the officers that not only had her sister been shot, but her niece was missing. The room tilted as they searched the house for Sophie. Nausea spread through her. Nothing made sense. Rachel was a mom who worked part-time as a hairdresser at a local beauty shop. Someone clearly wanted something that was worth killing for, but what? And why would they take Sophie?
Thirty minutes later, Kate stood in the waiting room while doctors rushed to save Rachel's life.
As she leaned against one of the walls, an officer approached her and began peppering her with questions. Though sympathetic, he wanted answersfast. Did she know who had shot her sister? Did she know where her niece was?
Kate caught the young officer's gaze, fighting the urge to scream. No. She didn't have any answers. Didn't know who had shot Rachel. Didn't know where Sophie was.
As he continued to ask her questions she had no clue how to answer, she thought about calling her mother and the pastor from their church, but had no idea what to say. How was she supposed to break the news to her mother that Rachel might be dying and Sophie was missing?
She wondered if they should expect a ransom note. That was how they did it on television. Cops or FBI agents waited with the grieving family until the kidnappers called to make their demands. They needed to find out what they were after, and if this were somehow connected to Chad, because Rachel didn't have the kind of money kidnappers would demand.
Which meant she needed to talk with Chad. She tried his preprogrammed number she'd kept on her phone. No answer. Despite their failing marriage, Kate couldn't imagine the man shooting Rachel and leaving her for dead. The two might have had their issues, but she didn't think Chad was capable of murderor even kidnapping, for that matter.
Except all the signs were there. Possible divorce, a string of heated arguments, and if he was involved in something illegal Even if he hadn't been here, Chad had to know something.
She punched in his number again, wondering what time it was in Paris right now. Wondering why he wasn't answering.
Only one thing was clear at the moment. She was going to keep her promise to her sister and find Sophie.
Monday afternoon, Marcus O'Brian slid the key into the front door of the upscale house and slipped past the yellow tape. Operation Solitaire had turned into a yearlong investigation with diamonds being smuggled into the United States in exchange for military-grade weapons for a number of third-world African countries. And his search had led him here.
After weeks of dead ends, he still had more questions than answers. Which was why coming here was a long shot, but it wasn't one he was willing to dismiss. Chad Laurent, half French, half American, might be working as a legitimate buyer for an international jewelry company, but now Marcus had compelling evidence Chad was buying and selling diamonds sourced from illegitimate channels; uncertified diamonds that had been smuggled into the international market and in turn sold as legitimate gems. And now on top of that, the man was a prime suspect in an attempted murder case and kidnapping charges of his wife and daughter.
He stepped through the front door and studied the layout of the three-bedroom, two-story house that had been ransackedopen-concept living room, dining room and kitchen, with a wide staircase to the second floor. Among the chaos were picture books, puzzles, stacks of children's DVDs and colorful drawings hanging on the fridge. He went over in his mind everything he knew about Rachel Elliot Laurent. Married for five years, but currently separated from her husband. There was no evidence of abuse, which was why the shooting seemed out of character if Chad was behind it. Or at least unexpected. But the rules of the game had changed, and he had a feeling that Rachel wasn't as innocent as she'd portrayed herself to be in their interview three days before the shooting.
Something about her demeanor had rubbed him the wrong way. She'd insisted she knew nothing about Chad's possible illegal activities, especially now that her husband had relocated to Paris six months ago, but she'd been hiding something. He was certain of it.
He heard a noise upstairs. Marcus's pulse shot up a notch. Someone else was in the house. He took the stairs to the second floor slowly, gun drawn, senses alert to the unfamiliar sounds of the house. According to his contact within the local PD, no one should be here. More than likely it was someone who'd decided to take advantage of the empty house, or a family member who didn't care that this was a crime scene. If he were lucky, the perpetrator had returned to the scene of the crime.
He stepped through the doorway of the master bedroom and stopped. A woman knelt beside an open wooden chest facing away from him, going through the contents. Like the rest of the house, the room had been trashed, but here, blood stained the light-colored carpet. The crime scene unit had already swept the house for evidence, but whoever she was, she clearly wasn't supposed to be here.
"I want you to put your hands in the air and stand up slowly." He held his weapon level and aimed it at her as she stood and turned toward him, clearly alarmed by his presence.
"Who are you?" she asked as she followed his instructions.
"I could ask you the same thing." He took a step toward her. Recognition skirted his memory as he searched for a name. "Kate Elliot?"
Her frown deepened. "How do you know my name?"
"I know your sister. Wow. The two of you could be twins."
"Irish twins, actually. We were born eleven months apart. But that doesn't answer the question of what you're doing here."
He stopped midstride, and pulled back the front of his black tailored sports coat. "My name is Marcus O'Brian. I'm with the FBI, investigating what happened to your sister."
He studied her brieflyshoulder-length, reddish-blond hair pulled up in a ponytail, intense hazel-colored eyes. Something struck him about the intensity of her posture, like a mama bear defending her cubs. But why not? Her sister had been shot and her niece was missing. And from her defiant expression, she didn't believe he was one of the good guys.
"Why is the FBI involved?" she asked.
He lowered his weapon and reholstered it. He didn't have evidence that Rachel was involved in her husband's illegal activities, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to keep digging. "I can't talk about that."
"Do you know who shot her?"
"No but I am sorry." He knew she was hurting, but showing empathy had never been his strong point. "How is she?"
"She came out of surgery, but she's still unconscious. And the last I heard there were still no firm leads on my niece's whereabouts."
"Were you here when she was shot?"
"No, but I was on my way. I found her here. Whoever shot her took Sophie and left Rachel to bleed to death."
"Do you have any idea who might have wanted to hurt her?" he asked.
"No. I've already told the police everything I do know, which isn't much."
"Like I said, I'm not with the police."
"Don't you share information?"
"Yes, but I'm in the middle of a separate investigation connected to her husband."
"Chad?" The fatigue in her eyes deepened. "Do you think Chad is behind my sister getting shot?"
"At this point, I have no idea. What I do know is that the FBI is currently investigating Chad for possible involvement in an open criminal case where your sister is a potential witness." Or in his mind, a suspect, but he wasn't going to bring that up at this time. "Do you think it's possible your brother-in-law was involved in the shooting?"
"At this point, I'd believe almost anything, but I don't think so. Chad can be a jerk, but he doesn't like to get his hands dirty. And besides, I can't see him shooting Rachel, or taking Sophie, for that matter. He threatened to get a divorce once or twice, but as far as I know he's never moved ahead with his threats. He wants to see Sophie, without the responsibility of raising her. Bottom line is I can't see the point of him snatching her."
"So what do you know?"
"I know that someone broke into this house looking for something." Her gaze dropped as she fiddled with a loose thread on the edge of her purple T-shirt. Tense. Nervous. "I know that my sister is lying in ICU and my niece is gone. I know I probably shouldn't be here, but I thought I might find some clue of what Racheland Chadare mixed up in."
He studied her expression. There was something she wasn't telling him. "Do you know what they're mixed up in?"
"No, but someone was clearly looking for something and I want to know what."