When vulnerable beauty Alanna Hayes appeared on his doorstep with a baby in tow, Cain Caldwell didn't know what to think. On the run after uncovering evidence of secret experiments at the Coastal Island Research Park, she claimed his brother had promised to help her, but he was dead. The closer Cain got to Alanna, the more difficult it was to remember she might be involved in murder. Except this hardened lawman couldn't deny the passion rising between them, and neither could Alanna.
Would Cain join the mission to save baby Simon from the mysterious forces of Nighthawk Islandbefore it was too late?
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The Cradle Mission
By Rita Herron
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCatcall Island
"Kill her," the man ordered in a gruff voice. "Then take the baby."
Alanna Hayes's heart constricted. She had to save herself, so she could save baby Simon.
Frantic, she tried to free the bindings encasing her wrists, scanning the dark interior of the lab storage room for an escape. Shadows claimed the corners, dark clouds casting bleakness through the small window, the sound of rain slashing against the metal roof ominous. Another man's husky voice filtered through the darkened doorway.
She should have known better than to snoop into unauthorized areas, but she hadn't expected the security guard to take her hostage at gunpoint. And now they'd kept her in this cold, cramped space for hours, making her wonder -
The voice broke the silence again, a harsh mumble. She didn't recognize the men's voices. Did they belong to the doctors at the research center where she worked? The security guards?
Were they really going to kill her? And what would happen to innocent little Simon? He was only four months old, he needed her....
"I don't like the idea of murder," a deep voice said.
"We have no choice," the man said matter-of-factly. "But make it look like an accident."
"What are you going to do with the baby?"
A chill rippled up Alanna's spine. The thickly accented voice belonged to her boss, Paul Polenta, one of the leading researchers in gene therapy in the country.
God, no. He couldn't be a part of this ... this lab project. She'd liked him, had thought he was a brilliant, caring doctor. Just as she'd believed everyone at the Coastal Island Research Park intended to help people.
She'd been wrong.
The man's gruff voice cut through her fear like a razor blade scraping raw skin. "We're taking him to the lab as planned."
"Won't it draw suspicion if one of our nurses turns up dead?" Polenta's voice quivered. "After all, what does she really know?"
"Too much. I found her snooping in my files." The other man cleared his throat, the sound echoing beneath the eerie drone of the rain. "And I've worked too damn long on Project Simon to let some nurse destroy it. I chose her because she has no family. No one will come looking for her."
"She has a grandmother -"
"Who barely knows her name, much less if her granddaughter visits."
Alanna's chest constricted. Her grandmother had Alzheimer's. The center's research on the disease had been one thing that had led Alanna to take a job at CIRP. Even if her grandmother didn't always recognize her, Gran counted on her visits. She had no one else. What would she think when Alanna didn't show up for her weekly visit?
"But murder?" Polenta asked, sounding shaken. "We're doctors, for Christ's sake."
"Hell, man, think of your reputation. You wouldn't be able to work anywhere in the country if word leaked about this project. The Holy Rollers would picket. The press, the cops, the feds, they'd be all over us." His voice escalated several decibels. "And the government would shut us down. Then there's the damn Russians ..."
Polenta grunted. "Can't we use one of those experimental drugs to alter her memory?"
"Not after the mess with that cop, Clayton Fox, and the scientist Wells and his wife. I want all loose ends tied up," the first man ordered. "Now let's get out of here. We need to be long gone when the building blows."
Outside, the rain intensified, pounding the roof with brutal force. Fear paralyzed Alanna as the voices faded into the howling wind. They were going to leave her to die. Then she'd never be able to save Simon. To hold the precious infant in her arms again.
To see him gurgle and smile. To watch him grow. To know he would have a normal life.
The outside door slammed shut. Silence followed, earth-shattering in its intensity. The low hum of a car engine sprang to life in the chilling aftermath. Thunder rumbled. Car doors closed. Gravel crunched, then tires screeched as the car peeled away.
Tears trickled down her cheeks, soaking the rag in her mouth. How long did she have before the building blew? Minutes? Seconds?
Time enough to escape? And if she did, could she find Simon and save him?
Fighting panic, she forced herself to breathe through her nose, and shuddered at the strange odor. Gas? Or was it another lethal chemical? Her heart pounding, she twisted in the chair, searching the darkness, hunting for something to help free her. Dust motes floated through the haze. Spiderwebs clung to the corners. Her eyes slowly adjusted. Lightning flashed, momentarily illuminating the sooty darkness. She searched the metal shelves and cement floor. Assorted flasks, test tubes, lab supplies.
A broken petri dish in the far corner.
She struggled to slide sideways, then slowly pushed herself up from the chair. Dizzy from the gas fumes, her legs buckled and her knees hit the concrete with a painful thud. The chair legs splintered. She winced, pitching forward, but managed to right herself, then crawled awkwardly toward the supplies.
Several long minutes later, she grasped in the dark for the broken glass and maneuvered it behind her. Thunder rent the air outside as she sawed through the thick ropes. Sweat streamed down her neck. The jagged glass jabbed her palm. Somewhere in the distance, the incessant ticking of a clock chimed. Or was it a bomb?
Her heart racing, she ignored the cramping in her muscles, the pounding in her head. Finally the rope frayed. She tugged until the ends came apart, freeing her hands.
Jerking the gag from her mouth, she heaved for air and quickly cut through the ropes around her ankles. Dizzy, she staggered to the door. Damn! It was locked. The ticking sound escalated in her head, reminding her to hurry. Then the door swung open.
A scream died in her throat.
Polenta's hulking frame stood in the shadowed awning.
"Alanna." His expression looked pained.
"Please," she whispered. "Please ... don't do this, Paul. Let me take Simon and leave." She grabbed his arms, shaking him. She was crying openly now. "I love that baby, I'm the only person he knows. You can't let him be treated like a science experiment."
His jaw tightened, but he dragged her outside. Gravel crunched beneath her feet. Lightning zigzagged across the sky, illuminating his angry face. His fingers dug into her arms. Where was he taking her? Was he going to kill her himself?
Excerpted from The Cradle Mission by Rita Herron Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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