Her gruff neighbor unsettled Sara Murdoch with his mesmerizing stare. But when escalating threats proved Sara’s childhood nightmares were only too real, Nat Sanderson took action. Why a reclusive mountain man knew how to secure a perimeter and soothe a woman’s fears was a mystery Sara swore to solve once she and her daughter were safe.
The past he’d thought buried should have kept him away from a woman and child in danger. But when Nat held a shaken Sara in his arms, he knew his own worst nightmare had returned. He could no more refuse to protect them than he could deny that he and Sara would be lovers. Not with evil poised to strike just before dawn.
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Just Before Dawn
By Joanna Wayne
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCraig Moffitt mopped a salty stream of sweat from his brow with a bleached white handkerchief, then stuffed the soaking square of threadbare cotton into his back pocket. Demolition was hell on the system anytime of the year, but it was downright criminal in the heat of a Georgia summer. "Course, late May was officially spring but you wouldn't know it by the temperature. High eighties already and it wasn't even noon yet. And they were in the mountains, almost to Tennessee. He hated to think how hot it was down in Atlanta.
"'Bout all I can do with the bulldozer," Gus called. "Reckon we'll have to take the rest of her out with picks and shovels."
"Can't see why we have to bother. Place is already leveled. Nothing left but the basement. The guy can just fill her up with dirt and let her go. What's a few bricks left under the ground?"
"Boss said the new owner don't want no sign the building ever stood on his property. Says it's an abomination."
"Building was a church for Pete's sake. An orphanage after that. Don't see how a man with half a heart can call either of those an abomination."
"He's paying. He can do the calling, lessen you want to hang around and tell him different."
"It's just a job to me. If I'm not sweating and straining here, I'll be doing it somewheres else." Craig turned to the rest of the crew, such as it was. A couple of college guys working to earn spending money and Jimmy, a new guy with way more brawn than brains.
"You guys grab some picks out of the back of the truck. Jimmy, you get the jackhammer and 'tach it to the gas engine. Let's take out that basement wall."
The college boys shrugged their shoulders and took their own sweet time about it. Jimmy smiled as he headed toward the jackhammer.
Craig walked over to the truck, pulled a soda out of the cooler, screwed off the top and gulped it down. He was almost back to the basement site when he heard Jimmy let out a string of curse words.
"You got a problem?" Craig asked, peering into the dank hole of crumbling brick and mildewed earth.
"I got more than that. I got a skull."
He held it up for the rest of them to see.
"Looks mighty small," Gus said, jumping into the hole. "Had to be a baby."
Jimmy reached into the hole the skull had tumbled from. This time he pulled out a bone that looked to be part of a tiny spine.
One of the college boys tugged on a loose brick and a whole slew of bricks started falling. Craig jumped out of the way just as a second skull rolled across the broken cement and wedged between his boot and the wall.
"I'm not digging in no graveyard," Jimmy said, backing away. "It's unholy."
"Weren't no grave site here," Gus said. "Just a church and an orphanage. Not supposed to be any dead babies here for sure. Reckon I better call the sheriff."
Craig backed away from the skull. He felt weird inside, like his insides were all gritty and dirty, the same as his trousers were. He was a little scared, too, and he didn't get scared often.
"You guys get out of there and just leave those skulls where they lay," Gus ordered, already punching in a number on his cell phone.
None of them waited to be told twice.
Funny thing was, the morning didn't seem hot now. In fact Craig was downright cold, right through to his bones.
Sara Murdoch marked an 85 on the last history final, then dropped the red pen to the top of her desk. It clattered against the wood before rolling onto the floor and under the loaded bookshelf behind her.
She leaned back in her chair and relaxed as the feel of freedom soaked in. The spring session was over and for the first time in four years she was taking the summer session off. Just her and Kendra, roaming the mountains of northern Georgia, breathing fresh air and soaking up sunshine.
Kendra's father was supposed to have taken her for the month of June, but he'd changed those plans at the last minute, announcing that he'd be in England for the summer, getting remarried. The news had stung at first, but Sara had gotten over the pain quickly enough. Their divorce had been final for two years, and the love had died before that - if it had ever been love.
Sara wasn't at all sure she knew what love was at this point, other than the kind of love she felt for her daughter. The romantic love she'd seen in movies and read about in novels and even in history books seemed to have about the same lasting power in her life as the cotton candy Kendra loved. One sweet moment, and then it vanished, leaving nothing but that sticky saccharine aftertaste that practically gagged you.
"Are you ready to go?"
Sara scooted her chair back from her desk and motioned Raye Ann Jackson into the room. Raye Ann was chair of the history department, sweet and the most energetic sixty-something woman Sara had ever met.
"I'm ready and Kendra is so excited she's driving me nuts. She's been counting the days until we leave for two months."
"I just hope the cabin's still habitable. It's been at least four years since I've been up there. I lost the taste for it after Mark died. He always loved it so much."
"As long as it has walls and a roof, we'll make do. Roughing it will be part of the mountain experience."
"I wrote the directions down. The rural areas are a little short on road signs, but I don't think you'll have any trouble finding it. If you do, just ask anyone where Mattie's Stop is. She or Henry will be there and they can give you directions to the cabin. In fact, Mattie can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about the area. She's a nice woman, although she's a windbag. Her husband is downright strange - and grows the best vegetables I have ever put in my mouth."
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