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By Mindy Neff
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSOMEONE LEFT a dead canary in Abbe Shea's mailbox.
She didn't need three guesses to figure out its meaning. The lifeless yellow bird - a baby bird - was the Mafia's way of warning her what happens to the children of people who "sing."
Forty-eight hours later, she was still trembling like an addict who needed a fix.
Damn it, she'd kept her silence for five months now. She hadn't told a soul that she'd witnessed her fiancé's murder - or that she could identify the shooter.
Shouldn't that prove something? Did these people actually think she'd risk her daughter's life?
In addition to front-page newspaper headlines, every television station in the country carried hourly reports on the Texas Rangers' apprehension and arrest of Lucca Ziggmorelli, a key member of a Las Vegas crime family. The charges were drug trafficking and money laundering.
Abbe knew he was guilty of much, much more.
And that made her a liability - to the Ziggmorellis and, worse, to her own daughter.
She took a final walk through her grandmother's house, where she'd been living for the past five months, her gaze touching items that brought both good memories and ones that made her cringe. She was leaving so much behind. But it couldn't be helped. Grandma Jane andMama were gone now - Grandma taken home to Jesus, and Mama ... well, that was a mystery. Abbe had no idea if her mother was alive or dead, and her regret was keen. There were so many things she wanted to say to her, to apologize for.
How had life become such a mess? Abbe had thought she could start over here in Hope Valley, Texas. It was the sort of place where acceptance was unconditional and people actually spoke to one another when they passed on the street.
She should have known better.
She should have known that one of the first places they would look for her was her mother's hometown.
"Jolie?" she called. "Sweetie babe, we need to hurry up now. It's time to go."
Jolene, her three-year-old, streaked through the living room, short blond pigtails bouncing, a fluffy white puppy hopping at her heels. The teacup Maltese, Harley, skidded on the hardwood floor and tumbled onto the rug.
"I gots to find Lambie-pie!" Jolene wailed. "Her's lost."
Abbe breathed deeply, trying to still the nerves clawing at her stomach. Jolene hardly made a move without her stuffed lamb, so how could it be lost?
"The last time I saw her, she was sitting on your potty chair."
Jolene's jaw dropped, and her eyes went round. "Oh! I forgetted. Her had to go tee-tee." With that announcement, Jolene dashed toward the bathroom. Neon-pink lights flashed from the soles of her tiny sneakers each time they connected with the cabbage-rose-patterned area rug. The puppy raced after her, clearly delighted with the blinking shoes.
Jolene had taken the news of their pending trip in stride. She was a happy, agreeable child, always ready for an adventure. Abbe couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to her little girl. The energetic cherub was her absolute heart.
Now, realizing that the Ziggmorelli family had found them so easily, especially the manner in which they'd let that be known, Abbe was totally spooked.
And that meant they needed to disappear. Go somewhere safe. To someone who could help keep them safe.
Her hands shook as she retrieved a manila file folder from the bottom drawer of her grandmother's Bombay chest and stuck it in her suitcase. The information in that file was something she didn't want falling into the wrong hands.
Compiled by a private investigator over a period of thirty years, it was a detailed dossier on Grant Callahan, his home-town of Shotgun Ridge, Montana, and the people who lived there. Reading through the mountain of papers five months ago, she'd gleaned that the small community of Shotgun Ridge was as far removed from the dirty hands of organized crime as possible.
And ever since she'd found the file on her father's computer and read it, she hadn't been able to get Grant Callahan out of her mind. According to the report, he was retired from the U.S. Army's Special Forces and dedicated himself to the horse-breeding farm he owned with his two brothers, but he still accepted assignments on occasion.
She'd made a call yesterday from a pay phone in town to the mayor of Shotgun Ridge, Ozzie Peyton. He'd come through for her just as the dossier had promised. As for Grant Callahan, if the man could infiltrate terrorist groups in foreign countries and rescue kidnapped executives, he could surely help her.
At least she hoped so. She'd been naive in the past, so trusting and gullible, accepting all the nice things money could buy, and never questioning where that money came from.
God, she'd made mistakes. She'd floated through life as though it were her own personal fairy tale, fallen in love, given birth to a beautiful little girl. Then, in a single day, all the security she'd ever known had been yanked out from under her in the most hideous, terrifying way - and she'd had to grow up in a hurry.
Looking back, she realized she'd been taken care of most of her life - first by her mom, then by her adoptive father, Stewart Shea, then by her fiancé, Tommy Donato.
Now she was on her own, and all the scary decisions rested solely on her shoulders.
Abbe hoped to God she was making the right ones.
Because her daughter's life was at stake.
With urgency pressing her chest, she loaded the rest of their suitcases into the car, put Harley into his pet carrier, then corralled Jolie and Lambie-pie, and strapped them into the car seat. They were traveling light - two cases each, plus a box of Jolie's toys, and some photo albums. The amount of baggage they could take was limited, due to the weight restrictions of the plane. She'd gone to the airfield earlier that day and calculated her fuel based on what she'd packed. She'd also gone over the aircraft inch by inch, sweeping it for signs of tampering or a tracking device, praying she'd know one if she saw it.
Jolene fell asleep before they even reached the main highway, and Abbe appreciated the silence. Her stomach was knotted with tension, her nerves were frayed, and somehow she had to pretend that nothing was amiss. Moms were supposed to be strong, to never let their children see their fears. Most moms, anyway. Her own had been just the opposite.
Abbe took the turnoff for Hope Field, the county airstrip where she kept her Beechcraft Baron B58. She was glad she hadn't let pride persuade her not to keep the plane - a gift from her father. After pulling her Jeep next to the Baron, she took her sleeping daughter out of the car seat and transferred her to the one in the back seat of the airplane. She left the cockpit door open while she went back for the puppy, then loaded their luggage into the cargo hold.
The cell phone in her purse rang, and a rush of adrenaline shot straight to her head. Annoyed with herself, she checked the caller ID.
Her adoptive father.
She'd been waiting for him to return her phone call, but now she felt nervous about it. She hadn't spoken to him since she'd left Las Vegas in January - five months ago.
"Hello, Pop." Her voice was flat, with just the barest hint of a tremble.
Excerpted from Shotgun Ridge by Mindy Neff Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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