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TILL DEATH DO US PART?
When her estranged husband Dylan's inadvertent dealings with a crime ring bring danger to her doorstep, Grace McIntyre has no choice but to follow him into the witness protection program. To safeguard her children, they must all go into hiding as one big happy family. Grace doesn't know what's worse—having to pretend she's in love with the man who betrayed her trust or keeping ahead of the killers. In hiding, Dylan is all that stands between their safety ...
TILL DEATH DO US PART?
When her estranged husband Dylan's inadvertent dealings with a crime ring bring danger to her doorstep, Grace McIntyre has no choice but to follow him into the witness protection program. To safeguard her children, they must all go into hiding as one big happy family. Grace doesn't know what's worse—having to pretend she's in love with the man who betrayed her trust or keeping ahead of the killers. In hiding, Dylan is all that stands between their safety and certain death. Now more than ever, he wants to be the man that Grace once loved. Keeping his family alive is his only hope—to be a hero and a husband.
Disgusted, Grace McIntyre slammed down the receiver. "Not funny, Dylan."
The annoying phone calls had been so prevalent lately she was thinking of changing her home number. If she hadn't figured that the harassment was coming from her soon-to-be ex-husband, she might have already done so.
She stared out the kitchen window, wistfully watching their children playing in the sunny backyard. At ten, Kyle was the eldest and had clearly been asserting more dominance over his three-year-old brother, Brandon, since Dylan had packed his personal belongings and moved out of the family home for good.
"It wasn't my fault," Grace murmured, desperately yearning to convince herself she'd had no choice but to file for divorce once she'd discovered Dylan's sinister character.
Her gaze rested on seven-year-old Beth, their middle child. The pretty little red-haired girl had grown so moody and weepy Grace was at a loss. Not that Beth was the only one shedding tears over the breakup of the McIntyre marriage. The difference was Grace had done her grieving in private, hoping to protect the children's tender emotions.
"Apparently, I haven't done a very good job," she told herself with a sigh.
The estrangement had not been sudden. She and Dylan had been drifting apart for a long time before she'd felt the undeniable need to act. If the problem had been another woman in her husband's life, Grace believed she could have coped. But it wasn't. Dylan worshipped the god of money, of privilege, and would do anything to succeed, even if his actions meant others had to suffer-as she had sadly learned.
She dried her hands on a tea towel and turned from the window. Being personally neglected was nothing compared to facing the painful truth about her husband's underhanded business practices. His lack of remorse over what he had done had revealed Dylan's true colors and had broken her heart. The man was bright. Clever. There was no way he could have been handling the paperwork for shady adoptions and pushed through falsified documents without realizing exactly what was going on.
The aspect that had really thrown her was his easy admission of involvement. He'd acted as if he'd expected her to accept his actions as necessary and to be proud of him for bringing home hefty bonuses for bending the law. How could she have lived with that man for twelve years and have so totally misjudged him?
She blinked back tears and whirled as the back door slammed.
"Mom! Brandon's eating dirt!" Kyle shouted. "Beth told him it was a cookie."
"I did not?" Muddy hands fisted on her hips, the little girl stomped her foot. "I was just playing house. I didn't know Brandon was going to eat anything I made."
If Grace hadn't been so downhearted to begin with, the scene of her two carrot-topped kids standing nose to freckled nose and trying to stare each other down would have made her laugh out loud. They had her stubborn streak, all right. And the twinkling blue eyes of many of their Irish ancestors. Add the McIntyre genes to that and you had a volatile genetic mixture.
Grace held up both hands. "Okay. Simmer down. Is Brandon still eating the dirt cookie?"
Beth shook her head. "No. I took it away from him." She glared at her older brother.
The smirk on Kyle's face reminded Grace of Dylan. Then again, pretty much everything did. The house they had spent a fortune remodeling was wonderful, yet not a day went by that she didn't rue her failure to ask him how they could possibly afford all the expensive improvements.
"You two go wash your hands while I get the baby and clean him up. It's almost lunchtime."
"I want peanut butter and jelly," Kyle said.
His sister made a face. "Ugh. That's all you ever eat. No wonder your face looks like a peanut."
"Does so," Beth countered.
Grace clapped her hands to get their attention. "That's enough." She pointed to her elder son. "You go use the upstairs bathroom," she told him. "Beth, you use the one off the guest room. And no muddy messes, you hear? I want those sinks spotless when you're done."
Beth waited until her brother had started to turn away, then made a face and stuck out her tongue.
Grace had to smile. Kids. What would she do without them?
There had been times, particularly lately, when she'd questioned every choice she'd made since her marriage- except when it came to deciding to have children. It wouldn't be easy raising them alone. She'd have to find a job and probably sell the house. But they'd get by. Even if Dylan was out of the picture, she knew he'd still help support them. He had never been stingy.
"Unless he ends up in prison for what he did," she muttered, stepping into the yard in search of her threey ear-old. "Brandon? Where are you?"
Although he didn't answer he was easy to find by following the sound of his giggles. Standing on tiptoe, he was splashing in a concrete birdbath, clearly delighted as water flew in all directions.
"Well, at least you're cleaner than I expected," Grace said, scooping him up from behind and carrying him toward the house with the wettest, muddiest parts turned away from her green silk blouse and designer jeans.
She kicked off her sandals at the door and carried the little boy to the kitchen sink where he obligingly held his hands under running water.
His giggling was infectious. "You are one dirty kid, you know that?" she said between soft laughs.
"Kyle helped me," the child replied.
"I'm sure he did."
Grace reached for paper towels to dry off her youngest. Kyle had never been an easy child and the older he got, the more he tested her patience. He had been acting even worse since Dylan had sat everyone down and told them he was leaving. Beth had wept and Brandon had sniffled. Kyle, however, had merely stood there, jaw clenched and eyes flashing, glaring at his parents.
The boy was angry. Grace understood. She wasn't pleased with the way things had worked out, either, but there was no way she'd ever be able to forgive her husband for always putting his work before his family no matter how much they needed him at home.
Dylan had had a good job with a prestigious law firm and had been on his way up the corporate ladder, just as they'd planned, but somewhere along the way he'd lost sight of the underlying reasons for his hard work. And now? Who knew? It wasn't only that he'd destroyed his own future, he'd ruined his entire family's, too. Thrown it away as if none of them had ever mattered as much as making a lot of money.
It was always the money, first and foremost. She couldn't count the number of times she'd fed the children, then eaten a burned dinner alone because Dylan had been too involved in some hot-shot business deal to bother to come home as promised.
Truth be told, her husband had been absent so often there was little difference between their present situation and the times when he'd still lived there.
Grace sighed. That wasn't quite true. Back then, she'd always had hope he'd eventually show up. Now she knew he was gone for good. And once their divorce was final, probably the only times she'd encounter him would be when he picked up the kids on visitation days.
"Well, it is what it is," she murmured, setting her youngest at her feet and taking his hand. "Come on, honey. Let's go get you some clean clothes before lunch."
"I want a boy cheese sandwich," Brandon said, making his mother smile at the inside joke. He'd mistaken the word "grilled" for "girl" and had refused to eat the melted cheese sandwiches until Dylan had realized the problem and changed the name of the toasted treat.
"Okay," Grace said. "I'll cook you a boy cheese and Beth can have a girl cheese."
Kids. No matter how heavy life got, they were always able to lift her spirits and remind her that the most important job she had was being a mother.
The telephone began to ring again.
Grace ignored it.
Kyle rounded the corner into the kitchen and passed his mother at a run. "I'll get it. Maybe it's Dad."
"Well, if it is, tell him I'm busy." The boy's enthusiastic expression twisted a figurative knife in Grace's stomach as he snatched up the receiver with a breathless, "Hello? Hello, Dad?"
Grace saw Kyle's expression sober. Heard him say, "Nah. He's not here."
She paused. "Who is it?"
Kyle was hanging up. "Some guy. He said he wanted to talk to Dad."
"Well, don't worry. I'm sure he can reach him at the office if it's important."
The child's cheeks were rosy, his eyes wide. "I hope not. He sounded real mad."
"How could you tell? What did he say?"
With a quick shake of his head, Kyle answered, "No way. If I talked like that you'd wash my mouth out with soap." He eyed the phone. "That was one scary dude."
Dylan had spent the previous week in custody, being interrogated by local police as well as the U.S. marshals and FBI. By the time he'd learned enough to accept his own culpability, he'd been forced to accept the wild claims of the former missionary who had recently broken the disturbing truth to him by telephone. He was in deep trouble, legal trouble, and it looked as if there was no way out other than to confess and ask for mercy.
"Look, I've already told you," Dylan insisted, facing the authority figures who kept asking the same questions over and over. "I don't know anything about any kidnappings. I had no idea there was anything criminal about where those babies came from. For the most part, the paperwork was impeccable. I certainly had no indication a crime was involved in the cases where there were some minor omissions." He stared at the St. Louis police detectives and other nearby officers, willing them to understand the rationale behind his prior behavior.
Like it or not, the fine line between merely doing his job versus being an upstanding citizen had blurred over time. Finding himself on the wrong side of the law had triggered an unwelcome surge of well-deserved guilt and had led Dylan to do some serious soul-searching.
"Did you tip somebody off?" one of the detectives asked.
"How could they have? You've had me isolated ever since you picked me up."
"Then why were there were no records of any of the questionable adoptions in your office files by the time we convinced someone there to look for them?"
Dylan frowned. "There weren't?"
The dark-haired young woman who had been introduced as U.S. Marshal Serena Summers shook her head. "No. None. Can you explain why that is?"
"No." Dylan was truly at a loss. "Are you sure?"
Nobody laughed at his ridiculous question, leaving him with the disappointing conclusion that someone had disposed of any incriminating evidence. That was that, except
He cleared his throat, determined to make his interrogators take notice. "Look. It doesn't matter what happened to the originals. I have copies of everything that passed through my hands regarding those adoptions you're asking about."
"In my office. I can go get everything you need."
"And you expect us to let you waltz out of here, just like that?"
"If your people couldn't locate my private files, I'm the most logical one to retrieve them. Otherwise, they might disappear like you claim the other records have."
"He has a point," a detective offered. "Once we have to actually serve the subpoena, all the suspects will be alerted."
"I still don't like it." Marshal Summers shrugged beneath the padded shoulders of her tailored jacket. "However, if he's willing to sneak back in, I don't see any reason to prevent his trying to help us. We can post men in the lobby and pick him up when he comes out."
"I really do want to make amends," Dylan said with feeling. "As long as no one suspects me of working with the police, I can't see any problems, can you?"
"Actually I can see plenty," the lead detective grumbled. "But it's the Feds' call. If you want him to go, I'll agree to release him to you."
That was how Dylan ended up back at his apartment to change clothes and shave before being escorted to his office at Munders and Moore, L.L.C., via taxi.
In retrospect, he felt it was possible that at least some of the clues might lead back to Frederick Munders' wife, Matilda, who ran Perfect Family Adoption Agency. The puzzle was how an overtly open and honest woman like her could have gotten involved in baby stealing. It didn't make sense. That was a big reason why Dylan hadn't suspected the risks to his own conscience until he was in way over his head.
Thoughts of his three children brought somber reflection. How devastated those other parents must feel to have lost custody of their babies! When he'd believed that the adoptions were voluntary, he'd had no trouble bending the rules to expedite transfers of guardianship. Now, however, he knew better.
Straightening his tie and running a palm over his dark hair to make sure he was presentable, he left his plain-clothes escort and entered the modern high-rise containing the law offices where he was ostensibly still employed. As long as nobody asked him what he'd been doing on his recent days off he figured he'd be okay.
He mopped his brow with a linen handkerchief before tucking it back into the breast pocket of his custom-tailored blazer, stepping onto the elevator and pressing the button for the fourth floor.
Everything seemed quite ordinary when he disembarked. The firm's prim receptionist merely nodded to him as he passed, while clerks and paper-pushers overlooked his passage the way they usually did when they were busy.
Dylan's private office was bigger than a cubicle but far smaller than that of his boss or the other senior partners. He paused in the doorway, taking care to avoid attracting undue attention, then sidled through and quietly shut the door behind him.
Nothing seemed to have been disturbed until he crossed to a filing cabinet and opened it. Everything pertaining to the adoptions the police had asked about had been removed. It hardly mattered that the files were gone, however, because it wasn't the actual paper copies the police needed, it was the private background information they contained. That, he could provide.
Going quickly to the golfing trophies atop his bookcase, Dylan unscrewed the base of one of them and withdrew a USB flash drive from a hollow space. His hands were shaking so badly he had trouble reassembling the award properly but he managed to cobble it together enough to withstand a cursory inspection.
Pocketing the drive, he wheeled and headed for the door. All he could think of was getting out of there ASAP.
He'd almost reached the elevator when he heard someone shout a gruff, "Hey!"
The doors slid open with a whoosh. Ignoring the urgent-sounding summons, Dylan stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the lobby.
His last glimpse through the closing doors was of a uniformed security guard. The man had a hand on the butt of his holstered gun and was hurrying toward him.
It didn't matter why the guard was alerted or who might have questioned his presence. All Dylan could think of was escaping. He punched other buttons, hoping he hadn't been too late to override his original selection.
Slowing, then coming to a smooth stop, the elevator doors opened onto the third floor. The number two was still lit on the panel, so Dylan paused rather than disembark on three. A normal person who was being chased would get off as soon as possible and take to the stairs. Logically, so would the guard who had missed the elevator. Therefore, he had to think of some other way to elude his pursuer.
Posted August 5, 2014