Read an Excerpt
White Dove's Promise
By Stella Bagwell
Chapter One"Lunch at your desk. At this rate, you're going to have burnout before you reach the age of thirty."
Unaware that anyone else had entered her small office, Kerry WindWalker jerked her head up from the promissory note she'd been typing to see one of Liberty National Bank's loan officers standing at the corner of her desk.
Smiling at the tall, gray-haired man, she said, "I'm behind, Clarence. It's Monday. Everyone seems to be broke on Mondays."
With a rueful grin, he placed more work on the corner of her already loaded desk. "Reality hits when the weekend is over. But it doesn't mean you need to work through your lunch hour. Have you eaten anything with that?" he asked, inclining his head toward the half-empty soda bottle sitting near her typewriter.
Kerry shook her head. "Not yet. But I will. I have a sandwich waiting for me back in the break room."
Clarence glanced at his wristwatch. "It's almost two," he gently scolded. "Turn that machine off and go eat. Now."
Three years ago, Kerry had returned to Black Arrow, Oklahoma, and, shortly after, landed a position there in the loan department at Liberty National. Back then Clarence had been the first to welcome her into the fold and make her feel at ease. It was her first important job after acquiring her business degree and his kind support had meant a lot to a young girl fresh out of college and desperately needing a paycheck. Since then the older man hadbecome someone she could truly call a friend. For that reason she always took extra time to see that his loans were processed before anyone else's. "But Mr. -"
He waved a dismissive hand at her protests. "Mr. Whoever can wait. Including me."
With a shrug of surrender, she switched off the power on the typewriter, then rose from her chair. "Okay, I'm on my way," she told him as she absently brushed at the wrinkles in her slim, beige skirt.
The loan officer paused at the door to make sure she was following him out of the small office. Kerry was about to ask him if he'd stopped to have his own lunch when the phone on her desk rang.
"Forget it," Clarence prompted. "It's probably Landers wanting to know if you've finished the papers on the Crawford loan. He can wait, too."
The fact that Clarence considered her break more important than the wishes of the bank's vice president put a smile on Kerry's face. Since she'd started the job she'd oftentimes worked through breaks and beyond office hours to make sure her work was completed punctually. It was nice to know someone appreciated her dedication, especially someone like Clarence who'd been with the bank for more than twenty years and pulled a considerable amount of weight with the president.
"I'd better get it anyway," she told him. "After all, it's past my lunch break. I'm supposed to be at my desk at this time of the day."
Tucking her short black bob behind her ears, she hurried back to the L-shaped desk and plucked up the ringing phone.
"Kerry WindWalker speaking."
"Kerry! Thank God you finally answered! I thought you might be out and I don't know what to do!"
For a second, the frantic sound of Enola WindWalker's voice didn't quite register with Kerry. Her mother never called the bank and interrupted her work.
Kerry's smooth brow was suddenly furrowed as she anxiously gripped the receiver. "Mom? Is that you? Is something wrong?"
"Oh - Kerry - I don't know how to tell you this but - I can't find Peggy."
Kerry's blood suddenly turned to ice water. Peggy was her three-year-old daughter, the very existence of her being.
Trying not to go into instant panic, she said, "Mom, take a deep breath and calm down. Surely, she's around there somewhere. Have you looked under the beds? In all the closets? You know how your granddaughter likes to play hide-and-seek."
Kerry could hear Enola struggling to stifle a sob and the sound shot shards of fear straight through her. At fifty-six, Enola was a strong, steadfast woman. In fact, Kerry couldn't ever remember seeing her mother rattled, even years ago, when she'd been dealing with an alcoholic husband. For her to be so close to breaking now was enough to tell Kerry that something was terribly wrong.
"I've searched the house," Enola told her. "I've searched the yard. I walked down the road as far as I thought her little legs might be able to go and called to her. If she's hiding, she won't answer. It's been nearly an hour now since I missed her!"
Fear wadding in her throat, Kerry glanced up to see Clarence was still waiting in the doorway. From the anxious expression on his face, the older man had already sensed that something was wrong. "Peggy - my daughter - is missing," she explained to him.
Grim-faced, the loan officer strode quickly over to Kerry's desk. "Have the sheriff's office or city police been notified?" he asked briskly.
Kerry directed her attention back to her mother on the other end of the telephone line. "Mom, have you called any sort of law officials?"
"Yes, I've called Bram Colton - he's not here yet. But most of the neighbors are already out hunting for her. I think -"
Enola continued talking, but Kerry ignored the rest of her words as she shook her head at Clarence and managed to choke out, "She's called the sheriff, but he hasn't arrived at my mother's house yet. Peggy's been missing for nearly an hour."
"Get over there. I'll explain things here for you," he said definitively.
As she watched Clarence hurrying out of the room, she said to her mother as calmly as possible, "I'm leaving the bank now, Mom. Just hang on and I'll be there in a few minutes."
Outside in the parking lot, Kerry jumped in her car and headed home, to the west outskirts of Black Arrow. Shaded by two huge cottonwoods, the house was old, built in shotgun fashion with a wide porch running the entire width of the front. Throughout the years, the lapped wooden siding had been painted first one color and then another. Presently, it was a bleached-out yellow with equally faded brown trim. The shingles needed replacing, the front screen door was warped and one end of the porch floor sagged. But to Kerry the old place had always been home and so far it was the only home that little Peggy had known.
Even though the WindWalker property wasn't far from the city limits, the road running in front of the house had never been paved. Gravel spewed from Kerry's tires as she brought her compact car to a stop in the short driveway.
Watching from the porch, a petite woman dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt with a single black braid lying against her back raced out to meet her daughter. Tears had dried on her cheeks, but were threatening to spill from her eyes once again as she grabbed onto Kerry's shoulders and hugged her fiercely.
Excerpted from White Dove's Promise by Stella Bagwell
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.