Gone deadly secrets book.., p.1
Gone (Deadly Secrets Book 2),
OTHER BOOKS BY ELISABETH NAUGHTON
Deadly Secrets Series
Aegis Security Series (Romantic Suspense)
Stolen Series (Romantic Suspense)
Against All Odds Series (Romantic Suspense)
Wait For Me
Hold On To Me
Melt For Me
Eternal Guardians Series (Paranormal Romance)
Firebrand Series (Paranormal Romance)
Bound to Seduction
Slave to Passion
Possessed by Desire
Bodyguards in Bed
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2017 Elisabeth Naughton
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Michael Rehder
my favorite book lover
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
If Alec McClane had a heart left, it might have been shattered on the floor. As it was, sitting on the cracked plastic chair in the sterile hallway, all he could think about was how someone else’s heart was about to be shattered. And how he was going to have to live through that all over again.
He rubbed his aching forehead with his thumb and first two fingers and waited. He’d known the news wouldn’t be good when he’d gotten the call, but he’d come anyway. Raegan, on the other hand, was probably so excited she could barely think straight. Just knowing all her hope was about to be crushed left a knot in the pit of his stomach that he’d carry with him for at least the next damn week.
Man, he wanted his old friend Jim. Unfortunately, he and Jim Beam weren’t on speaking terms going on close to three years now.
He shifted on the uncomfortable chair, leaned back, and crossed his arms over his chest. A nurse rushed by, stethoscope in hand. Down the hall, a couple of doctors conversed quietly in their white coats and shiny shoes. Pressure formed in his chest the longer he waited. A pressure he knew was rooted in guilt and self-disgust even Jim Beam hadn’t been able to ease.
He leaned forward again, rested his elbows on his knees, and clenched his hands into fists, only to release them in a feeble attempt to take the focus off the heaviness between his ribs. He should have called Raegan as soon as he’d seen the girl. Should have told her not to come. Then, at least, he wouldn’t be sitting here waiting for the love of his life to walk through the door only to leave him wrecked and more empty than he’d awoken this morning.
Holy hell, he needed a drink.
Alec glanced to his left where an FBI agent strode toward him down the long hallway, a grim expression on the man’s angular face. Slowly, Alec pushed to his feet. “Hey, Bickam.”
Jack Bickam had worked Emma’s case. He was the one who’d called both him and Raegan when the four-year-old in the other room had been found in a park not far from the one where Emma had vanished three and a half years before.
Vanished when Alec had turned his back for two minutes to help a kid who’d fallen off the swings.
His stomach churned with another wave of guilt, and bile rose in his throat. But he swallowed hard and forced both back.
“Glad I caught you before you left,” Bickam said. “Got a minute?”
Alec glanced over his shoulder toward the lobby of the small hospital. Still no sign of Raegan. Nerves rolled through his gut along with the guilt, but there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about either. “Yeah.” He turned back toward Bickam. “What do you need?”
“Sorry the kid wasn’t Emma,” Bickam said, brushing the dark bangs off his forehead.
There wasn’t any good way to respond to that, so Alec shoved his hands into the pockets of his worn jeans. “That what you came out here to tell me?”
“No. I wanted to talk to you about the tip we received on the girl. It came from the Santiam Correctional Institution.”
All the worry and stress faded to the background, leaving behind nothing but a simmering anger that was as insistent as any liquor craving. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yeah, I triple-checked the call records. It came in at one thirty-five p.m. SCI’s a minimum-security facility that transitions inmates back to society. They have access to phones from six a.m. to ten p.m. so long as they’re not out on a work crew. And your father wasn’t on a crew when that call was placed. I just checked.”
A thousand memories of a neglected and filthy childhood rolled through Alec’s mind. The man in that prison wasn’t his father. Fathers took care of their kids. They didn’t knock them around, make them fend for themselves, or use them as mules to move their illegal shit. No, John Gilbert wasn’t his father. He was just the son of a bitch Alec shared DNA with.
He was also the asshole who had every reason to want to see Alec suffer. “I’m gonna kill him.”
“No, you won’t.” Bickam stepped in Alec’s way before Alec could move toward the lobby. “I already sent someone out to question Gilbert.”
“He won’t tell you shit, and you know it. If he knew about this missing girl, it means he had a part in my daughter’s disappearance.”
“I’m not so sure,” Bickam said. “The caller mentioned Emma specifically. That’s why I notified you when we found the girl. I was hopeful this would be a major break in the case, but if Gilbert was the caller, as we think, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he did it to mess with you.”
“You mean to fuck with me.”
“Yeah, that.” Bickam’s jaw clenched. “Look, he could have learned about the missing girl from the news or overhead some of the correctional officers discussing the case. The caller didn’t name the park where the girl was picked up; he named the one where Emma disappeared. It could just be a coincidence.”
Not for Alec. There was no such thing as a coincidence when it came to John Gilbert.
“I also listened to the call,” Bickam went on. “It didn’t sound like Gilbert to me, but I know that doesn’t mean much to you.”
“I just wanted you to know,” Bickam said. “When I hear back from my people out at SCI, I’ll fill you in. Either way, you need to watch your back. Gilbert’s scheduled to be released next week. His six-month sentence for probation violation is almost up, and he’s completed his community reintegration program. If we can link him to that call, I’ll take the info to the judge, but if not, he’ll be out on the streets soon.”
Alec rested his hands on his hips and fought back the rage that wanted to consume him. Regardless of what Bickam thought, Alec knew John Gilbert had killed his daughter. He was the only person who had motive, the one person in the world who wanted to see Alec suffer. It was Alec’s testimony as a teen that had sent Gilbert to prison for fourteen years. No matter how long he lived, Alec would never forget that day in the courtroom when Gilbert had been convicted, the way he’d stood at the defendant’s table, stared at Alec across the gallery with enraged eyes while he was cuffed, and screamed that he’d make Alec pay. And Alec had paid. He’d paid every day since that awful day in the park. Gilbert had been released from prison less than a month before Emma had gone missing. Alec knew Gilbert had been there, that he’d taken Emma in his sadistic need for revenge, just as Alec knew Gilbert had killed her as soon as he got her away. Alec had just never been able to prove it.
“Yeah, okay,” he said for the agent’s benefit, though inside he was already planning how he’d wring the information from the son of a bitch’s throat. “Thanks for letting me know.”
Bickam nodded and glanced over his shoulder toward the lobby. “Any sign of Devereaux?”
Alec’s stomach twisted, and with just the mention of Raegan he was transported right back to the reason he was standing in this empty hallway. “No. Not yet.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll be down the hall if either of you need me.”
Alec muttered, “Thanks,” as Bickam headed back the way he’d come. But as he sank into his chair once more and rubbed his throbbing forehead, the dread spiraled right back through his veins.
The automatic doors at the end of the hall pushed open long minutes later, followed by the click of heels on the tile floor. Lifting his head, Alec glanced to his right, and the minute he saw her, all the air drained from his lungs.
Raegan Devereaux rushed down the hall toward him, her curly auburn hair flying around her face, her tan trench coat flapping behind her. Pushing to his feet, Alec swallowed hard as she approached, remembering all the times he’d run his fingers through that silky hair, the countless hours he’d wrapped his arms around her slim waist and held her against him, and the nights he’d spent worshipping her perfect body like a peasant worships a goddess whose station is miles above his lowly class.
“Where is she?” Hope reflected deeply in Raegan’s meadow-green eyes, but her angelic features were drawn and tight, and her soft pink lips quivered with a fear he knew threatened to overwhelm her.
“It’s not her.” Alec caught her by the forearms before she could rush past. The scent of her jasmine perfume filled his senses, a hard punch to his gut filled with memories he couldn’t get sucked into. Not now. “Raegan. Stop. It’s not her.”
“How do you know?” Panic lifted her voice. “Agent Bickam said she fits the profile. He said—”
“It’s not her,” he said louder, ignoring the way her scent made him light-headed and how the warmth beneath the sleeves of her coat heated his chilled skin. “I saw her. It’s not our daughter.”
The hope in her pretty green eyes died like a flame being snuffed out. She searched his gaze as if willing him to say something more, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t, because hope was a dangerous thing. It was a mirage in the distance, flickering in the fading light and dragging a person forward like water draws a parched man. Only, when you got there, all you found was sand. Dry, grainy, throat-clogging sand that could kill you if you gave it the chance.
He stood motionless, unable to do anything to salvage her hope. Watched a familiar pain seep into her eyes and dampen her gaze. And he felt it filter deep into his bones, tugging at that heart he was sure no longer existed.
“I don’t believe you.” Just as quickly, another familiar emotion overtook her gentle features. One that hardened her jaw, darkened her eyes, and pulled her lush mouth into a tight line. She drew back from his grip. “You just don’t want it to be her.”
Alec’s arms fell at his sides, and something in his chest deflated like a balloon losing air. There was nothing in this world he wanted more than for the four-year-old girl in the other room to be their daughter, but she wasn’t. No girl who showed up in this hospital or any other ever would be because of John Gilbert.
He didn’t tell Raegan that—they’d already argued about it a million times. He didn’t try to stop her when she stepped around him. Didn’t warn her against what she was about to see. Knew it would make no difference. He’d come to terms long ago with the bitter truth that Emma was gone and never coming back. Raegan, on the other hand, still chose to cling to a hope that would only torment her for the rest of her life.
He turned to look after her. Watched as she pushed past the doctors still talking, and rushed toward Bickam standing outside a room at the end of the hall with a uniformed officer. Pain lanced his chest as she nodded and followed Bickam into the room. When he could no longer see her, he clenched his jaw and rubbed the back of his neck.
Yeah, hope was a very dangerous thing. More dangerous than a loaded .45 aimed right at your head. And, shit, he should know. Because thanks to his splintered hope, he’d lived through that horror too.
All because of a man he planned to confront as soon as he walked out of this hospital.
She should have listened.
Raegan stepped out of the hospital room, rubbed a shaky hand against her forehead, and drew in a deep breath, desperate to settle her racing pulse. Nothing helped. It felt as if a jackhammer were chipping away at what was left of her heart, the pain nearly as intense as the day Emma had gone missing.
She pressed her hand to her chest and focused on breathing. He’d tried to warn her. Alec had tried to keep her from rushing into that room and getting hurt all over again, but she hadn’t listened. He might have decimated her once, but he still cared. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have waited for her here at the hospital. He would have left as soon as he realized the girl in that room wasn’t their missing daughter.
“Excuse me, miss?” The officer outside the door stepped toward her. “Are you okay?”
Tears burned Raegan’s eyes. Tears of pain, of frustration, of trampled hope, but she blinked them back, breathed deeply, and pulled herself together. “Yes,” she managed. “I’m fine.”
She turned away and swiped at her eyes. One look and Raegan had known the girl wasn’t Emma. Her hair had been too dark, her eyes too round, and she’d been missing the small, strawberry birthmark on the outer edge of her right eye that Emma had been born with. Raegan had known not to get her hopes up. Had known the chances were slim, but she’d hoped anyway. And she’d go on hoping regardless of what Bickam or Alec said. Because hope was all she had left these days.
Be tough. You can get through this.
Lifting her head, she drew a deep breath and smoothed her blouse over her slacks. She was no worse off than she’d been this morning, right? This didn’t have to wreck her. She wouldn’t let it.
She turned away from the officer and headed back down the hall toward the lobby, her heels clicking along the tile floor like an ominous warning. Her pulse was still too high, but as soon as she got back to the office and dove into her work, she’d be fine. Maybe she’d even cut out early and get a drink before she had to meet Jeremy and his friends for dinner.
Her footsteps fumbled when she spotted Alec sitting on a chair midway down the corridor, massaging his forehead as if he had a whopper of a tension headache. Her treacherous heart squeezed
They’d been divorced nearly three years, but every inch of her body still responded to him as if they’d just met. Her skin heated, her mouth watered, and a low tingle spread through her belly and inched its way downward until her knees were literally shaking.
He stopped his vigorous rubbing and lifted his head. And when his sky-blue eyes caught hers and held, that heat in her skin combusted.
He pushed to his feet, watching her carefully. Swallowing hard, she forced her legs forward and told herself not to get worked up. This was Alec. The man who’d told her their marriage was a mistake. The one who’d trampled all over her heart. The one who’d left her alone and broken when she’d needed him most.
“You okay?” he asked quietly.
Dammit, she wanted to hate him but couldn’t. He’d been as broken as she had when Emma had gone missing. He’d simply dealt with it in a very different way. One that now—years later—she’d accepted but would never understand.
“Yeah,” she managed, slipping her hands into the pockets of her trench coat because she didn’t know what to do with them. “I’m fine.”
He nodded, but she could see in his eyes that he didn’t believe her. She found herself wanting to lean into him for comfort. Found herself wanting to scream at him for being here when she was emotionally wrecked and physically drained. Found herself wishing so many things between them could be different.
Nothing was different, though. This was her reality: a missing child, a failed marriage, and a life left tattered and crumbling around her when all she was trying to do was move on.
He slid his hands into the front pockets of his worn jeans, the movement pulling at the black Henley over his strong shoulders. A low pulse beat through her belly as she studied him. He was just as gorgeous as he’d always been—blond hair, a lean, muscular body he obviously still took care of—but the years had aged him in ways no thirty-two-year-old should be aged. Fine lines that hadn’t been there before creased his temple, and she could see a hint of gray in the blond scruff covering his jaw. Dark circles marred the soft skin beneath his lashes, telling her he hadn’t slept much recently, and worry churned in her belly at the thought he was drinking again. But one look at his clear blue eyes told her he’d exorcised that demon from his life, at least. The guilt, though, she still saw swirling in their cerulean depths.