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A Cry in the Dark
By Jenna Mills
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe cry ripped through the late-afternoon silence.
Gretchen Miller stopped folding her daughter's pink-and-white play outfit and looked up abruptly. She held herself very still, listening intently, as only a mother could.
Her heart kicked hard. She sprang to her feet and ran across the hardwood floor of her suburban Boston home, toward the staircase leading upstairs, where her daughter napped.
She heard her husband's voice but didn't slow. Couldn't. Not when her daughter needed her. After years of longing for a child and believing the miracle would never come her way, Gretchen had dedicated herself to motherhood with a ferocity that even she had never imagined. Gone was the woman whose life had once consisted solely of ancient writings and academic pursuits. In her place lived a mother who thrived on art projects and play dates.
"Violet?" she called, reaching the top of the stairs. She tried to strip the concern from her voice, but adrenaline drowned out her effort. The cry had been sudden and intense, drenched in distress and fear. If her little girl was hurt -
Wide blue eyes greeted Gretchen the second she raced into the pink room with the white canopy bed. Sandy-blond hair framed her daughter's pixie face. She sat in a small chair in front of the art table. In front of her, crayons lay scattered across a sheet of drawing paper.
Gretchen drank in the scene - the beautifully, perfectly normal scene - and tried to regain her equilibrium.
"Whatcha drawing?" she asked, moving to squat beside her little girl. With a hand she fought to steady, she brushed the hair back from Violet's pale face.
Her little girl gazed up at her, her eyes darker than usual, her pupils dilated, almost trancelike. It took a moment for Gretchen to realize the child was still mostly asleep.
"Come, now," she cooed, lifting her daughter into her arms and carrying her back to bed. She deposited her among the messy sheets and stretched out beside her. "How about we nap together?"
The soft Texas drawl had her glancing toward the doorway. She and Kurt had been married for three years now, but his rugged handsomeness still stole her breath. "I thought I heard something," she said. "A cry."
With a gentle smile he strolled to the bed and leaned down, kissed her softly on the lips. "Looks like everything's okay now."
Emotion swarmed the back of her throat. Fighting tears she didn't understand, she looked at her little girl, sleeping now, her breathing deep and rhythmic, as though five minutes before she'd not sat with crayon in hand. "I hope so," she whispered.
But deep inside, an innate sense warned otherwise.
The cry drowned out the gentle strains of the lullaby.
Lieutenant Marcus Evans, celebrated U.S. Navy SEAL, man of steel, staggered against the chipped Formica counter. For a brutal, heart-stopping moment he was back on the Navy frigate that had failed miserably trying to tiptoe through a minefield. The impact rocked him hard, jump-started his heart.
On a violent rush of adrenaline he ran from the kitchen of the rented Naples, Florida, beach house, to the sprawling, sun-dappled room beyond, where his wife sat in a rocking chair, their five-month-old daughter, Honor, at her breast, their two-year-old son, Henry, tinkering with a building set at her feet.
The serenity of the scene stopped him cold. Through a curtain of flaming-red hair, Samantha, esteemed ambassador to the small country of Delmonico by day and gloriously creative wife by night, looked up and smiled. "Something wrong?"
His mouth went dry. "That's what I was going to ask you."
"Is it time yet?" Little Hank, as they called him, an astonishing combination of his mother's refined, classic beauty and his father's rough edges, bounded to his feet and raced across the room. "You promised we could go in the ocean," he said, sounding far older than most children his age. Enhanced genetics, they'd learned, could be passed from generation to generation. "I want you to teach me how to be a seal, like you."
Marcus hoisted his son into his arms, all the while his heart threatened to burst out of his chest. His son. His and Samantha's. Sometimes he still couldn't believe it. "Give me five, champ," he said, ruffling the boy's dark hair. "Why don't you go put your trunks on."
The second Hank's feet hit the sandy tile floor, he was racing toward his room in a flurry of energy that stunned even Marcus.
Samantha shifted Honor from one breast to another. "You've got that look," she observed.
Her mouth twisted into a wry smile. "The superhero look," she said. "Like you think there's someone you need to be saving."
He wanted to laugh. He tried to laugh. He knew that was the right response. But God help him, he could find no laughter, not when his pulse still pounded. A Navy SEAL, he'd learned to trust his sixth sense. Not only trust it, worship it. The tingling at the back of his neck, the churn to his gut - without these warnings Samantha would have died one horrible day three years before, and he would not be standing here staring at her in the rocking chair, with the sun streaming down on her face and his daughter suckling greedily at her breast.
"Just a feeling," he muttered, trying to scrape away the nasty sense of unease. His family was fine. He could see that for himself. There was no more danger stalking them. No more shadows. No more deception. That had all ended years ago, in what seemed like another lifetime.
But the cry had been so real. So panicked and incessant. A small cry. A child's cry.
"Reddy?" Hank asked in his two-year-old voice, skidding into the room. He'd stripped off his tattered "Property of the United States Navy" T-shirt and pulled on a pair of khaki swim trunks. No water wings for his boy. His son had inherited his love of, comfort with, water.
"You bet." Already bare-chested and in trunks himself, Marcus indulged one last, lingering look at his wife and daughter. Then he grinned at his son. "Last one to the water is a rotten egg," he taunted.
"Hoo-wah!" Grinning, the little boy took off toward the door, threw it open and raced outside. Laughing, Marcus charged after him, into the warm breeze of a lazy, sunny Florida afternoon.
But deep inside, the chill, the uncertainty, lingered. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
Excerpted from A Cry in the Dark by Jenna Mills Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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