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by Kay David

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How does a family just disappear?

Alexis Mission returns to her parents' house for Thanksgiving and winds up in the middle of a mystery. The house is locked, the turkey's in the oven—burned to a crisp—four places are set at the table and not one member of her family can be found.

Sitting in the shadows is a man claiming to be

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How does a family just disappear?

Alexis Mission returns to her parents' house for Thanksgiving and winds up in the middle of a mystery. The house is locked, the turkey's in the oven—burned to a crisp—four places are set at the table and not one member of her family can be found.

Sitting in the shadows is a man claiming to be a government agent. Gabriel O'Rourke wants her to believe what can't possibly be true. He wants her to go with him. He wants her to trust him. But that's not what Alexis wants.

Too bad she has no other choice. Gabriel is the only one who can tell her what's going on—even if everything he says sounds like a lie.

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By Kay David

Harlequin Enterprises

Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0373710747

Chapter One

Alexis Mission hadn't driven a car in more than a year.

She hadn't gone to McDonald's for a hamburger, she hadn't stopped at a mall to shop, she hadn't put on lipstick or worn a pair of panty hose or done any of the countless things Americans did every day without thought.

Coming home was a shock. She walked out of the Albuquerque airport and into the chilly New Mexican sunshine. Everywhere she looked, people were rushing. The confusion was even more overwhelming on the sidewalk than it had been inside, the cacophony of horns, engines and movement too much for her to absorb. All at once, she felt as if she'd been living on a different planet instead of a tiny village in Peru.

Despite her anxiousness, Alexis threaded her way through the chaos with determination. She had to get accustomed to civilization again. Her family didn't know it yet, but she had returned and not just for a visit. She was back home to stay. Her mother's Thanksgiving invitation had provided Alexis the excuse she'd been looking for for the past six months.

She crossed the walkway to the rental-car buses and located the proper van. Five minutes later, it stopped in front of a low-rise building and everyone jumped out. Moving with the crowd, Alexis found herself in front of a neatly uniformed agent who had herstamped and ready to go with an efficiency she hadn't seen in quite some time. In the lot behind the building, she located the small red Mazda he'd assigned her.

She threw her duffel bag into the spotless trunk, then climbed into the front seat and fumbled with the keys. After a second's study, she started the compact vehicle, but didn't put it in gear. With the motor purring quietly and the jets rumbling overhead, she simply sat in the car and thought, just as she had a thousand times, about the last time she'd seen her family.

Her baby brother had been too young to do anything but cry, his big eyes filled with confusion. A late surprise for her parents, Toby had been more like Alexis's own child than a brother. But she'd kissed his plump cheek and turned away. The pain of that moment had carved a hole in her chest, but it was the anger - the disappointment - in her parents' gazes that had haunted her.

When she was nineteen, however, nothing had meant more to Alexis than Esteban Garza. He was the only person she could think about. She'd met the handsome young social worker through a volunteer program in Peru. He was a teacher, doing incredible work high in the Andes, helping his people. She wanted to be his partner - his soul mate - and toil beside him forever. Everyone had been horrified at the thought of her moving so far from home to live with a virtual stranger, but Alexis had felt she was old enough to make such decisions on her own.

Her mother couldn't say too much about Alexis's plans because for years Selena Mission had filled her daughter's head with romantic stories about Lima, Selena's birthplace. The men were all handsome, the women gorgeous, the beauty of the country unparalleled. Alexis's father, Robert, had had plenty to say, though.

"You're too young. You don't know what you're doing ... You're throwing away your life, for God's sake ..." He'd followed Alexis out of the house the day she'd left, begging her to change her mind, then threatening her when she didn't. "I swear to God, Alexis, if you get in that car, don't bother to ever come back! No daughter of mine would do something this stupid!"

They'd always been close, so the fight with her father had been shocking to Alexis. Angry and ugly. She'd said things she hadn't meant, and so, she hoped, had he.

One way or the other, she was about to find out, and then it'd be her time to beg ... for forgiveness and understanding. Her throat tightened in anticipation. What if he ignored her pleas as she had his? Her mother was the one who'd written to Alexis. Come home for Thanksgiving, Alexis, she'd scribbled. We miss you terribly.

Knowing it would be easier to explain once she was there, Alexis had never replied. She'd simply packed her things and left. Controlling and critical, Esteban had been impossible to live with and impossible to please, his Latin machismo ingrained so deeply their relationship had been doomed from the very start. Her parents had realized that as soon as they'd met him; it'd taken Alexis a year to understand then another six months to admit it.

A commercial came over the car's radio, the volume suddenly jumping, the holiday jingle loud and garish. She clicked off the noise then put the Mazda into gear and carefully backed up. The wheel felt huge in her hands, the brake pedal unwieldy.

In an hour, she reached Los Lobos. Her parents and younger brother had moved to New Mexico right after Alexis had left for Peru. She didn't know Los Lobos, but she'd seen thousands of towns like it in the years they'd moved around the country. Small and depressed, hanging on to what it'd been in better days. The community was still alive only because of the government think tank where her father and mother worked, along with some of the other top scientists in the world.

Alexis found the neighborhood and then the house. Driving slowly, she passed the brick home and circled the block with her nerves jangling. When she came back around, she slowed the car five houses down.

Her mother's trademark Thanksgiving decoration was hanging on the front door. A diehard optimist, Selena Mission was a brilliant mass neuron scientist, but domestic tasks had always eluded her. Alexis and her father had always teased Selena unmercifully over the strange straw and pumpkin wreath, but seeing it now brought a quick sting to Alexis's eyes.

She dashed away the tears then eased the car into the driveway and parked. Her heart jumped into her throat and stayed there, a lump that only seemed to grow larger. Finally, her hands shaking, she managed to open the door and get out.

On the porch, she paused. Should she knock? Should she ring the doorbell? Should she just stand there and pray someone would come? None of those options seemed right, and after a few more seconds of hesitation, she knocked once then opened the door and called out. "Mom? Dad?"

No one answered, but they didn't have to. Alexis had found home and she knew it.

Excerpted from Disappear by Kay David Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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