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Rafe Black couldn't still his fingers. A pile of tiny bits of shredded paper from his straw wrapper betrayed his nerves as he checked his watch one last time.
Abby was officially one hour late.
"Another tea?" The waitress, young, fresh-faced and clearly trying to earn a good tip, smiled in earnest until she saw the mess on his table. "You got something on your mind?" she asked, gesturing to the paper pile.
He didn't want to be rude, but his thoughts were narrowed to a point and there wasn't much room for chitchat. "No more tea," he said, sending the hint he wasn't up for sharing but then added to soften the brush-off, "Thank you, though."
The waitress nodded and scooped up his pile with a small smile. "Just holler if you do."
He rubbed his forehead, massaging the tension pulling on his brows and bunching the muscles in his neck. Where was Abby? They'd agreed to meet here, at this grubby diner about forty miles outside of Cold Plains, Wyoming, following a hurried and frantic phone call from Abby after she'd dropped a bomb on him.
If Abby were to be believed, she'd given birth to his son only months earlier, and now they were both in danger.
Had she been lying? His gut told him no. He'd heard the fear in her voice. Felt the terror even from across the telephone line. Which was why, when she'd sent him a photograph of the boya damn spitting image of him with his dark hair and eyes and Abby's cupid-bow mouthand begged him to wire $10,000 to a Western Union in Laramie, he hadn't hesitated. He simply went to his savings account, made the withdrawal and then persuaded Abby to meet him heretoday.
The money had been picked up, but Abby was conspicuously absent. He'd be a liar if he didn't admit to some misgivings. Had she taken the money and split? Maybe.
The fact of the matter was, and this was a bit of an embarrassment, he didn't know Abby well. Only well enough to father a child after a torrid one-night stand that'd been completely out of character for him.
Damn. He pulled the photograph from his wallet and stared at the child's image. Had he been played? A cynic would say, wholeheartedly, yes. But he recognized his own features on that child's face, and he couldn't walk away. Even if Abby hadn't called, terrified and sobbing, he wouldn't have been able to walk away. That went against everything he believed in, stood for. And so, here he sat, like a chump, waiting for a woman who had plainly stood him up.
He flagged the waitress, tossing a ten-dollar bill on the table. Her eyes lit up at the generous tip, but then she bit her lip as if pinged by conscience. "That's too much of a tip for just an ice tea," she admitted.
He pushed the bill toward her but handed her a business card, too. "I need a favor," he said, hating that he had no idea what had happened to Abby and his son.
She pocketed the ten and accepted the card, her expression wary. "Sure. What can I do for you?" She glanced at the card, reading, "Rafe Black, M.D. A doctor, huh?"
"Yes," he answered with a brief smile. "I was waiting for a friend. Her name is Abby Michaels and she has a three-month-old baby boy. If she happens to show up, please give her my card. It's very important that I talk to her. Can you do that for me?"
She nodded. "Sure. Is she okay?"
"I hope so," he said. God, he hoped so. He rose. "Thank you. I appreciate your help."
"No problem," she said. "I hope your friend is okay."
He answered with a smile as tight as the grip on his heart and walked out of the diner, but in his gut, he knew something was terribly wrong.
It wasn't long before he discovered he'd been right.
Abby Michaels was dead. Rafe pushed his fingers through his hair, that damnable tremble returning to his hands, betraying everything he was doing to remain calm and in control. He should've stayed, should've reported her missing. Maybe they might've found her before He suppressed a racking shudder and tried to focus on the here and now, but it wasn't as if he had any experience with this sort of thing and there was so much at stake. He straightened and leaned forward, dread and anxiety twisting his gut in knots.
"And how did you find out about the victim's death?" the stone-faced detective Victor Reynolds asked, looking up from his paperwork, staring a hole into Rafe.
"I caught something on the news about five murdered women, and Abby was one of them. I was shocked," he said, but shock was too mild of a word for what he was feeling. More like reeling from a nightmare that he couldn't escape. After the news report, it'd taken him a full minute to fully comprehend the enormity of the situation. Abby was dead; what about his son? "I knew she was in some kind of trouble but I had no idea it was this bad. Listen, there's something else, she had a child. Was she alone when she was found? The news report didn't say."
"No." Reynolds's gaze narrowed sharply. "What child?"
"She called me earlier in the week, saying she'd had my child, a son she named Devin," he admitted, the grit in his eye burning from the lack of sleep. He'd driven straight through from Colorado Springs to this little hole-in-the-wall place outside of Laramie, where Abby's body had been found earlier that day. He'd shortened the nearly four-hour drive into three; it was a damn miracle he'd arrived alive. "She told me to meet her at this little diner, some greasy-spoon place about forty miles south from here," he said. "But she never showed. I should've known something went wrong."
"How well did you know the victim?"
"Not well," he said, embarrassed by his admission. He wasn't the kind to sleep around, but he'd met Abby while away at a medical conference in the hotel bar. One thing had led to another and before he'd known it, they'd stumbled to his room for drunken sex. Not his finest hour, for sure, and one he hadn't planned to ever repeat. "We had a one-night stand a little over a year ago. I hadn't seen or heard from her since, until she called saying she was in some kind of danger and needed money."
"And you sent it to her?"
He nodded. "Ten thousand."
At that, Detective Reynolds paused, speculation in his flat, squinty eyes. "Ten large, eh? That's a lot of money to send to a virtual stranger."
"She wasn't out to scam me. I heard the fear in her voice. She was terrified."
"Some women are good actresses," Reynolds said with a subtle shrug. "You believed it was your kid before a paternity test?"
"Yes," he said, growing angry at the detective's implication that Abby had duped him for some reason. This was starting to feel like less of a good idea as he sat across the table from the detective. "Let's get to the point. There's a woman dead, and her child is missing. Are you going to put out an Amber Alert or am I going to have to go up the ladder for some results?"
"Cool your jets, hotshot," Reynolds said, his tone hard. "Of course we'll issue an Amber Alert but let me tell you what I'm seeing . Motive."
"Motive?" Rafe stared, unable to fathom what the hell the detective was getting at. "What kind of motive?"
Reynolds leaned back in his chair, his gaze never leaving Rafe, watching his every move as if Rafe was some kind of deranged killer who might jump for his throat at any minute. "Maybe you're pissed that she duped you for a kid that wasn't yours? Ten large is a lot of money. But then, I hear doctors make good money. Better than cops, that's for sure."
Rafe ignored that. "He's my son. I don't need a paternity test to confirm what I see with my eyesthat he looks just like me. And what kind of killer drives four hours to the police station to help identify the body and then leaves a DNA sample?" he asked in disgust. "You need to look into the last place Abby was before she was killed. The news report said the one thing the murdered women had in common was this place called Cold Plains."
Reynolds grunted. "Nice place. Ever been there?"
"No." He bit back his irritation at the man. "Does the name Samuel Grayson mean anything to you?"
"I don't know," Rafe said, frustration getting the best of him. "But Abby she was running from this Cold Plains . I did some looking around, and I guess this Samuel guy runs the town. Maybe you ought to ask around, do some actual investigative work," he muttered under his breath.
"I don't tell you how to be a doctorhow about you zip your lip when it comes to police work?" Reynolds growled, bristling at the insult. But he relented, as if realizing Rafe's suggestion had merit, and said, "I know a guy in Cold Plains, Bo Fargo. He'll know if there's something hinky going down in his town. I'll make some inquiries," he said then slid a card across the table. "We'll be in touch. If a child turns up and he matches your DNA profile, we'll call. In the meantime, don't do anything rash like leave the country."
It was everything Rafe could do to keep a civil tongue. He'd get no satisfaction from the local law enforcement; that much was abundantly clear. They were too busy eyeing him for the crime rather than chasing down any real leads. Abby had been shot, execution style, in the back of the head, and then her body had been dumped in a wooded area. If a hunter hadn't come across her body, likely the wildlife would've taken care of any evidence left behind. If he wanted answers, he'd have to find them himself.
He was going to Cold Plains.
Ah hell, a voice in his head said, worrying about the everyday details of his lifehis practice and his patients, mostlybut all he had to do was pull that picture and stare into those baby eyes and know none of that mattered until that boy was safe. Tears stung his eyes and he blinked them away, focusing to a narrow point out of necessity. If he allowed himself to slip into the fear that ate away at his control, he'd lose whatever edge he might have that could help him find his son.
Who are you kidding? You're not a cop, man, the voice intruded again. Leave it to the professionals.
Professionals like Detective Reynolds with his cold eyes and ignorant small-town disposition? Not a chance. He was a smart man, capable of figuring a few things out on his own. He wished he'd known more about Abby. Why hadn't he tried to find her after that night? They'd had good chemistry. Her soft laugh had been like a warm caress. Or maybe he'd just been really drunk. No, that couldn't have been it entirely. Abby had had something special. The only reason he hadn't pursued her after that night was because of his single-minded career focus. Well, that, and the discomfort of having to tell people that they'd met in a bar and hooked up after tequila shots. He scrubbed his face, pushing away the sting of guilt. Now wasn't the time for thathe'd have plenty of time to twist with remorse after his son was found. If he was found. No, don't think like that. He would find him. That was a promise.