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The Sheriff Of Shelter Valley
By Tara Quinn
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Mama!Maamaa!" Ryan's scream tore through her fog of sleep.
Beth Allen was out of bed and across the room before she'd even fully opened her eyes. Heart pounding, she lifted her two-year-old son out of the second-hand crib, pressing his face into her neck as she held him.
"It's okay, Ry," she said softly, pushing the sweaty auburn curls away from his forehead. Curls she dyed regularly, along with her own. "Shh, Mama's right here. It was just a bad dream."
"Mama," the toddler said again, his little body shuddering. His tiny fists were clamped tightly against her - her nightshirt and strands of her straight auburn hair held securely within them.
"Mama" was about all her son said. All he'd said since she'd woken up alone with him in that motel room in Snowflake, Arizona, with a nasty bruise on her forehead, another one at the base of her skull. And no memory whatsoever.
She didn't even know her own name. She'd apparently checked in under the name Beth Allen and, trusting herself to have done so for a reason, had continued using it. It could be who she really was, but she doubted it. She'd obviously been on the run, and it didn't seem smart to have made herself easy to find.
She didn't know how old she was. How old her son was. Shecould only guess Ry's age by comparing him to other kids.
Stoically, Beth stood there, rocking him slowly, crooning soothingly, until she felt the added weight that signified his slumber. Looking at the crib - old brown wood whose scars were visible even in the dim August moonlight coming through curtainless windows - Beth knew she should put him back there, should do all she could to maintain normalcy at this stage of their lives.
But she didn't. She carried the baby back to the twin bed she'd picked up at a garage sale, snuggled him against her too-skinny body beneath the single sheet and willed herself back to sleep.
In that motel room in Snowflake, she'd seen a magazine article about a young woman who'd run away from an abusive husband. Like someone drawn in mingled horror and fascination to the sight of a car crash, she'd read the whole thing - and been greatly touched to find that it had a happy ending. The woman had run to someplace called Shelter Valley, Arizona.
Desperate enough to try anything, Beth had done the same.
But after six months of covering her blond hair and hiding her amnesia, she was no closer to her happy ending.
Neither, apparently, was her son. Spooning his small body up against her, she tried to convince herself that he was okay.
Ryan had only had a nightmare. Could have been about monsters in the closet or a ghost in the attic.
Except that the one-bedroom duplex she was renting had neither a closet nor an attic.
No, there was something else haunting her child, giving him these nightmares.
It was the same thing that was haunting her. Beth just didn't have any idea what it was.
* * *
Nearly blinded by the sun-brightened landscape, Sheriff Greg Richards scanned the horizon, missing nothing between him and the mountains in the distance.
A young woman had been rear-ended, forced off the road. And when she'd rolled to a stop, two assailants had pushed her into the rear of her Chevy Impala. She'd never even seen the car that hit her; she had been overtaken too quickly by the men who'd jumped out of its back seat to notice the vehicle driving off.
Stillness. That was all Greg's trained eye saw. Brownish-green desert brush. Dry, thorny plants that were tough enough to survive the scorching August sun. Cacti.
Another desert carjacking. The third in three months. A run of them - just like that summer ten years before. Yet ... different. This time, instead of ending up dead or severely injured, the victim, Angela Marquette, had thrown herself out of the car. Made it to an emergency phone on the side of the road.
Greg continued to scan the surrounding area, but there was no sign of the new beige Impala. Not on the highway - patrols had been notified across the state - nor in the form of glinting metal underneath the scarred cacti and other desert landscaping that had witnessed hideous brutalities over the years. In the places it was thickest, a hijacked car or two, even an occasional dead body, could easily slide beneath it undetected.
Patrol cars and an ambulance ahead signaled the location of the victim. Pulling his unmarked car off the road and close to the group of emergency personnel, Greg got out. The immediate parting of the crowd always surprised him; he hadn't been the sheriff of Shelter Valley long enough to get used to it.
As he approached the victim, he noticed that she was shaking and in shock. And sweating, too. The young woman, her brown hair in a ponytail, leaned against one of the standard-issue cars from his division. One of the paramedics shook his head as Greg caught his eye. Apparently she'd refused medical attention.
"Angela, I'm Sheriff Richards," he said gently when her gaze, following those of his deputies, landed on him.
"We've got her full report." Deputy Burt Culver stepped up to Greg. "We just finished." Burt, only a few years older than Greg, had been with the Kachina County Sheriff's Department when Greg had first worked there as a junior deputy. Other than a short stint with Detention Services - at the one and only jail in Kachina County's jurisdiction - Burt had been content to work his way up in Operations, concentrating mostly on criminal investigations. He was one of the best.
Culver had never expressed much interest in administration, had never run for Sheriff, but Greg was hoping to talk him into accepting a promotion to Captain over Operations. No one else would be as good.
Greg glanced down at the report. "This is a number where we can reach you during the day?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," the young woman replied, her voice as shaky as her hands. "And at night, as well. I'm a student at the University of Arizona. I live at home with my parents."
"The car was theirs?" Greg asked her. Chevy Impalas weren't cheap. Certainly not the usual knockaround college vehicle. She would probably have been perfectly safe in one of those. These hijackers didn't go for low-end cars.
"No, sir, it's mine. I also work as a dance instructor in Tucson."
Greg looked over the pages Burt had handed him, confident that everything was complete. That he wasn't needed here, at the scene of the crime. Still, he thumbed through the report.
Two men had done the actual hijacking. Young, in their late teens or early twenties. One Caucasian. A blonde. The other had darker skin, brown eyes and black hair. They'd both been wearing wallet chains, faded jeans - in the one-hundred and ten degree heat - ripped tank T-shirts, medallions. The blonde - the driver - had a tattoo on his left biceps and he'd been wearing dirty white tennis shoes. They'd had her radio blaring.
"Neither of them spoke to you?"
Excerpted from The Sheriff Of Shelter Valley by Tara Quinn Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.