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Not A Moment Too Soon
By Linda Johnston
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShauna O'Leary opened her eyes slowly. As she remained seated on her stiff desk chair, apprehension contracted her body into the same tight, quivering mass that it always did when she wrote something at her computer.
Most of the time, the tales that poured from her fingertips were fine, even delightful. Suitable for reading to the kids who came especially to her restaurant, Fantasy Fare, to hear them. She would laugh aloud as she read, in relief as much as enjoyment. Chastise herself gaily, push the print button and -
As she automatically began to scan the words on the screen, she gasped aloud. This was one of those rare, yet nevertheless too-frequent, other times.
"Oh, no," she whispered, though no one else was there, in her small, secluded home, to hear. "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no." She repeated the words in a mantra born of despair as she continued to read:
Andee was scared. So scared. "Daddy," she cried.
But Daddy didn't come. Instead, the bad man came back into the room.
"Help me, Daddy!"
Shauna stared at the hand clutching the computer's mouse as if it belonged to someone else. The long, slim fingers with blunted, pink-polished nails - fingers that were so skilled on the computer keys - were trembling. Resolutely,she highlighted the entire file, prepared to push Delete. Get rid of it.
But that wouldn't get rid of the problem.
She did it nevertheless. Erased everything. Closed the file.
Opened it again.
The story was still there. Of course.
With a small moaning sound, she pushed Print.
There would be a physical record of what had already been set into motion.
Shauna took two long, deep breaths, steeling herself for what was to come. Anxiously running fingers through the sides of her long, ash-blond hair, she looked at the telephone beside her computer. It sat on the antique door that had been taken from her grandmother's house and was now propped on wooden file cabinets, serving as her desk.
She studied the phone, delaying the inevitable.
And then, filled with dread, she lifted the portable receiver and pressed in a familiar number. Elayne Strahm's. She needed to speak with her immediately. Get another phone number from her.
For the little girl in her story was Elayne's grandchild.
Hunter Strahm's daughter.
Hunter Strahm steered his speeding rental car off the Interstate and onto the main road toward his mother's home.
Oasis, Arizona. Lord, it seemed like ages since he'd been back. It was late afternoon, desert time, though he'd already put in a full day of work and travel. He ignored the pounding of his heart as he hurtled through town, trying to silence the inner voice that told him he was on a fool's mission. Wasting not just minutes, but hours of precious time.
He'd made the decision to come here first. He'd live with it.
Yeah, but would Andee ...?
"Damn," he muttered aloud, forcing his thoughts from the direction that could only make him crazy.
He stared out the windshield. Oasis looked the same as he remembered. Except - where was the restaurant he knew Shauna O'Leary now owned?
He'd find out, if he had to. First, he'd go see his mother. Would Shauna still be there? If not, his mother would know how to find her.
He turned onto the street where his mother lived, and he looked around.
What kind of car did Shauna drive?
It had been more than five hours since that series of phone calls which made him want to lash out in total frustration and fear at whatever, whoever, was convenient.
He usually thrived on dealing with the worst of situations. Taking control, and resolving them.
But the calls had concerned his five-year-old daughter. Andee.
She'd gone missing from Margo's home in L.A. Wandered off from the backyard. Or at least that was what his ex had said in the first of those damnable calls.
Hunter, a private investigator, had been a thousand miles away on business, unable to do a blessed thing but head for the airport. He'd left a job unfinished. He had never done that before.
He'd never faced an emergency this urgent before.
Shauna's had been the second call. And Margo's next call had confirmed what Shauna had claimed.
Andee hadn't just gotten lost. She had been kidnapped.
Emergency, hell. It was a crisis of a magnitude he'd never imagined.
Shauna had called from his mother's, where she said she'd gone to be with Elayne. And though what she said reminded him too much of the past, he couldn't ignore it - just in case she could provide a clue, no matter how absurd, about where Andee was. That was the major reason he'd come here, instead of straight to L.A.
Surely Shauna would have gone home, or to her business, by now. Yet when he strode up the familiar walkway to Elayne Strahm's tan stucco hacienda, he figured it wouldn't necessarily be his mother who answered the door.
He rang the bell, reluctant to use his key after not being here for so long.
He heard footsteps inside. Light, quick ones.
And when the door opened, he found himself staring into soft brown eyes that were wide but not with surprise, the way her call had startled him. With ... what? Uneasiness?
She hadn't changed at all, except to become prettier. Her blond hair was a little longer, a little lighter. She was slim in her T-shirt and shorts, with shapely, endless legs.
Steeling himself for what was to come, he took a step toward her. Parroting the initial, friendly greeting she'd given him over the phone earlier - before she had dropped her bombshell - he said simply, "Hello, Shauna."
Excerpted from Not A Moment Too Soon by Linda Johnston Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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