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Born In The Valley
By Tara Quinn
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe streets were dark, but she welcomed the darkness. Welcomed the anonymity that wrapped itself around her, allowing her to run as no one in particular, a generic body passing unidentified through the early March night.
Sweating, heart working overtime, Bonnie Nielson concentrated on her rhythm, picking up speed as she reached her stride.
She knew these roads. Knew which houses gleamed bright and clean beneath a noonday sun, which yards grew beautiful flowers, which were the lucky ones with grass, instead of the more common desert landscaping. She knew every neighborhood, every family. In many cases she even knew the families who'd previously occupied these homes. She knew when the street had been paved. When that light went in. She even remembered when the stop sign was erected at the corner of Sage and Thyme.
She knew that an old man had died in that two-story stucco house she'd just passed. His unmarried son had inherited the place and moved in. She knew that the man living next door was divorced. And the one after that, a widower. Sometime during the past couple of years, she'd started thinking of the strip as bachelors' row.
And she knew that what was now a big looming shadow was actually an old gray house that bucked the stucco tradition with its aluminum siding.
Growing up in Shelter Valley she'd always known the neighborhoods. Had taken comfort in that knowledge.
It was different now, though. Now the familiarity distressed her, a moment-to-moment reminder of how very small her world was - and always had been. How insignificant a role she played in this tiny, sheltered part of a planet that was drowning in need.
Yet this town also housed what was most important to her. Keith. Katie. Greg and
Beth and little Ryan. Her friends. Her home.
So she ran. And when the Bonnie Nielson no one knew was hidden far enough inside her, she jogged toward home.
* * *
Keith Nielson was used to having the sheriff of Shelter Valley in his family room. Sprawling on Keith's couch, eating Sunday dinner, baby-sitting three-year-old Katie, Sheriff Greg Richards visited regularly.
But not in uniform.
And never before in an official capacity. There'd been a fire, and Sheriff Greg Richards was there to break the news to his sister.
"She always out this late?" He was standing, hands in his pockets, between the kitchen and the family room - keeping watch on the garage door at one end of the kitchen and the sliding glass door in the family room.
Keith appreciated the look of concern on his brother-in-law's face. Bonnie and Greg were the only living adult members of the Richards family.
Sitting on the edge of the couch, arms resting on his knees, Keith dropped his head, staring at hands that wouldn't stay still. Staring at the wedding ring that had been a source of joy to him - until recently.
"Not often," he said. But the truth was only partially revealed in those words. If he measured the number of times Bonnie had been out late at night during their whole marriage, it wasn't often. If you measured the number of times she'd been out late since Christmas, it was higher. A lot higher.
Greg leaned back against the wall. "I figured this jogging thing would fade quickly."
Keith thought about that. "Me, too," he answered slowly. "Just like the aerobics and weight training did."
Greg nodded. Glanced toward each door. Keith wished Tuesday was a good TV night. At least then they could pretend to be distracted.
"She's sure looking great."
"Yeah." He'd rather see every one of the twenty pounds Bonnie had lost if he could have back the cheerful woman he'd married almost seven years before. Keith's head shot up, eyes trained on the garage door.
He thought he'd heard Bonnie come in. He waited, not looking forward to the moments ahead. Little Spirits Daycare had been Bonnie's dream since her early teens. How badly was Greg's news going to affect her? She hadn't been herself for months as it was.
And how much did Greg know about that? Just because Bonnie hadn't been open with him didn't mean she hadn't gone to her brother.
Or maybe Greg hadn't noticed anything at all.
Keith listened and waited. For nothing.
"Katie's sleeping soundly." Greg hadn't straightened from the wall.
Keith studied the grain in the hardwood floor. "Bonnie put her down before she went out."
More silence. More door checking and glancing at watches. She'd been gone twenty minutes longer than her usual hour.
"Ryan's had two dry nights in a row."
Keith grinned at his brother-in-law. "That's great, man!" he said, in a way only two men who were close would do.
Greg nodded, his smile slowly dropping to a frown. "You want to break it to her?" he asked.
"You're the cop."
"I figured you'd say that."
"You've known her longer."
"You're married to her."
Slapping a hand against his jean-clad thigh, Keith stood. "Who the hell would've done this? I mean, set a fire in a day care."
"I don't know, but you can be damn sure I'm going to find out."
Keith believed him. Against every conceivable probability, Greg had solved a ten-year-old carjacking/murder that past spring. He'd found his father's murderer.
Keith thought he heard Bonnie in the garage again. Moved into the kitchen. Ran a hand through hair that was straight and blond and a little long.
He peered into the refrigerator. "You want a beer?"
"Yeah." Greg wandered over to the kitchen sink.
"No, not really," he muttered.
Closing the refrigerator door empty-handed, Keith said, "Me, neither."
What he wanted was to go to work. Picturing the brand-new bigger studio, his general manager's office, the monitors and cameras and constant activity, calmed him slightly. At MUTV - the Montford University television station - he was in control.
Or, barring work, he'd like to go to bed with his wife. But only if she'd snuggle her body up to him the way she used to.
He couldn't just keep standing there, looking at his watch.
Excerpted from Born In The Valley by Tara Quinn Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.