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A Father's Duty
By Joanna Wayne
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAugust in New Orleans was like a nasty disease that clogged your lungs and made you sweat from every pore in your body. It was near midnight now and still there was no relief from the heat or the humidity, especially not here on the edge of the French Quarter where the stench of stale beer, fried seafood and someone's pot habit hung heavy in the air.
Tanner Harrison had loved the inner city and the French Quarter once. He'd fed on its boisterous revelry, couldn't get enough of the jazz, the food or the Big Easy attitude. That had been years ago. Now the area was like everything else in his life, a plague to be endured. But tonight desperation added a new element to his restless discontent. It rode his nerves like a hissing snake looking for somewhere to sink its fangs.
Lily. Sweet, innocent Lily. Climbing onto his lap and cuddling into his arms for a bedtime story. Skipping through Hyde Park on a summer's day, her tiny hand clutching his. Waving goodbye as he'd boarded plane after plane after plane, always turning at the last second so he didn't see the tears sliding down her cheek and she didn't see the back of his hand flick across his own wet eyes.
Only Lily was no longer living in London with her mother. And his seventeen-year-old daughter was no longer innocent.
His daughter was here in New Orleans, last seen turning tricks for Maurice Gaspard. Tanner had seen it all in a lifetime of law enforcement, but nothing had ever made him physically ill the way thinking of Lily like this did.
He jerked to attention when he spotted a young woman running toward him, her high-heeled shoes bumping and scraping along the uneven sidewalk, her long blond hair flying behind her. Her skirt barely reached her thighs and her blouse was skin-tight, a bit of gauzy material that dipped low and revealed everything short of her nipples. He braced himself and studied her face as she came closer, looking for signs of the Lily he knew beneath the layers of makeup.
It wasn't Lily, but she wasn't much older than his teenage daughter, and she was running scared. Tanner reached out and grabbed her arm as she rushed past him. She clawed at him with long, fake fingernails painted a bright red.
"Let go of me."
"Right after we have a little talk."
She twisted to see behind her, then tried again to pry his hand from her arm. "I'm not working now, so get your rocks off with someone else."
"I'm looking for Lily Harrison."
"That's your problem."
"I just made it yours, too. Lily Harrison. She's seventeen, blond and pretty, with a British accent. I know she worked for Gaspard for a while."
"Seventeen. You're sick, man. You know that? Sick. Leave the girl alone and get a life."
"She's my daughter." Tanner pulled out the picture of Lily, frayed and bent from being carried around in his sweaty pocket. He handed the photo to the woman, then tugged her under the streetlight so she could see the details. "This was taken six months ago. If you've seen her at all, I need to know where and when."
"I don't know nothin'. So let go of my arm."
But Tanner figured she did know. Like the rest of Gaspard's women, she was just too damned scared to talk. No one squealed on the sleazy, revengeful pimp.
"Who are you running from?" Tanner demanded.
"I'm not running. And if I was, it's none of your damn business." She threw in a few gutter words for emphasis. "Look, man. I don't know your Lily, but there's a young girl in that courtyard back there, and she's hurt bad. If you want to do something, go help her, just leave me out of it. Please, leave me out of it."
"Half a block down. You'll see the break between the buildings. There's an iron gate, but it's not locked."
Tanner released his hold on the young woman, then took off running. He reached the gate in seconds, pushed through it and into a courtyard illuminated only by moonlight. The victim was lying in the middle of the enclosure, sprawled across the hot concrete, one leg dangling over a fountain that was dry and green with slime.
Tanner knelt beside her and brushed the long, blood-matted hair from her face, then felt the breath explode from his lungs in relief when he realized the half-dead woman wasn't his Lily.
He checked for a pulse. It was weak, but it was there. He grabbed his cell phone and called for an ambulance. The young woman opened her eyes and stared at him.
"Don't ... hit me. Please. Don't hurt ..."
"I'm not the one who attacked you. Just lie still. There's an ambulance on the way."
Her face was swollen two sizes too big, her arms were scratched and bleeding and there was a long gash running across her forehead, possibly made by the cracked flower pot that lay next to her.
Tanner lifted the woman's head. "Who did this to you?"
"No one. I ... fell."
"Like hell you did! Was it Gaspard?"
She shuddered and closed her eyes without answering.
"I'm looking for Lily Harrison. Do you know where I can find her?"
She didn't open her eyes or show any indication she could hear his pleas for information. Still he knelt beside her and monitored her pulse and labored breathing until the shrill cry of the sirens pierced the night.
Tanner put his mouth close to her ear one last time as he heard the footsteps of the paramedics approaching. "Do you know a girl named Lily Harrison? She's British."
The victim's eyes fluttered open as if she were trying to focus, then rolled back in her head before closing again.
"One word will do. I'm begging. Do you know where I can find Lily?"
There was no answer. Tanner moved out of the way as the paramedics loaded her onto the gurney. He had his doubts she'd live to see the hospital.
Excerpted from A Father's Duty by Joanna Wayne Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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