A tractor trailer jackknifes. E.R. nurse Jackie Kellison's car is slammed into the ensuing pileup. She climbs free and rushes amid the flames and wreckage to help others. And then Jackie hears a baby cry .
Jackie Kellison pulls the injured baby from the wreckage as motorcycle policeman Casey Guthrie reaches the scene. The woman in the car is dead. With no time to waste, Casey transports Jackie and the infant to the E.R. on his motorbike. But attempts to find the baby girl's identity lead to a chilling conclusionthe woman in the car was a kidnapper. The baby's fate is now in the hands of Jackie and Casey and in their hearts.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Next Of Kin
By C.J. Carmichael
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHIDDEN IN THE SHADOW of a stucco pillar outside the Super Value Mall on the southeastern outskirts of Courage Bay, a diminutive blonde clutched a baby to her chest and scrutinized the passing cars. A mini-van wheeled by, but she couldn't see in the tinted windows. Next, a two-seater Jeep zipped by, then a convertible.
The baby was getting heavy in her arms and the diaper bag kept sliding off her narrow shoulder. She eyed the vehicles with increasing desperation. This hadn't been part of the plan. Could she pull it off? The only answer she could come up with was that she had to. He'd slashed her tires, taken the money. What else could she do?
Finally she spotted a silver-gray Taurus wagon with an infant car seat in the back. The driver was an elderly woman-a grandma, maybe? The vehicle nosed into a parking place an aisle over from where the blonde was standing.
Impatiently she waited as the driver turned off her car and carefully stowed her sunglasses in a leather case on the dashboard. Finally the driver's door opened and the lady emerged. She opened the cargo door and pulled out a slick, fold-up stroller.
Hey, I should get one of those. As soon as the blonde had the thought, she gave herself a mental kick. As if. What was she thinking? She was not keeping this baby, no way ... though at two months, it was awfully cute.
With the stroller set up beside her, the lady reached into the rear seat and pulled out a bundle in several blue blankets. She fussed some more, returned one of the blankets to the car, then finally closed the door and locked it, slipping the keys into the front pocket of her lightweight jacket.
It was October in Southern California. The jacket and the blankets weren't exactly necessary. The day was sunny and warm, with a gentle breeze coming off the ocean. Fortunately it wasn't raining, which it could easily do at this time of year. Still waiting, she shifted the baby to her other hip. Her heart pounded so loudly now, it was all she could hear.
The moment the lady pushed the stroller into the mall, the blonde stepped out from behind the pillar and followed. Through the heavy glass doors, past a small shoe-repair shop, a chain drugstore, a beauty salon. The lady with the stroller turned left at a kiosk selling hemp jewelry and soon reached her destination: Baby Gap.
She went straight to the sales rack, flipping through the tiny items and selecting a few. Observing from a safe distance, the blonde had to force herself not to think about baby outfits herself.
Ten minutes later, with a dark blue plastic bag looped over one of the stroller handles, the lady emerged from the store. This time she stopped at a women's wear shop and again headed directly for the discount racks. Spotting a sweater she liked, she shrugged out of her jacket and threw it over the back of the stroller.
The blonde stiffened, spotting her chance. Trying to appear nonchalant, she strolled into the lady's line of vision and pretended to be interested in a row of T-shirts next to the stroller. She slid in as close as she dared, then brushed a hand over the jacket. The first pocket held nothing but a folded tissue.
Frantically she searched the second pocket. In front of her, the lady was admiring herself in a mirror. She swiveled, then smiled at the baby in the stroller. "What do you think, darling? Should Grandma buy this sweater?"
The blonde froze, certain that she was about to be busted. But a saleswoman walked between them at that moment.
"Oh, yes!" the saleswoman exclaimed with fake enthusiasm. "That pink really brings out the color in your cheeks."
The blonde felt the hard metal of the car key chain and closed her fingers around it. She eased her hand out of the jacket and into the pocket of her jeans. Then she turned around and left the store.
Five minutes later she was at the silver wagon, doing up the buckles of the infant car seat. "You be good back here, okay?"
The little one was due for a bottle, but that would have to wait. With luck, once the car was moving, the baby would be lulled to sleep. In the meantime, she dug a mirror from her purse and propped it up with a blanket in front of the child's face. She smiled as the infant gazed intently at the reflection.
"Look at the pretty baby," she cooed as she tossed the diaper bag on the floor between the car carrier and the back of the passenger seat. After a few quick adjustments to the driver's seat and the rearview mirror, she was ready to go. Cautiously she drove out of the mall with racing heart and damp palms. That poor grandma was in for a nasty surprise when she finished shopping, but it wasn't her fault.
Only one man could help them now, and he lived in one of the rich neighborhoods at the other end of town. Following the roadway signs carefully - this was not the time to make a stupid mistake with directions - she was soon heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Excerpted from Next Of Kin by C.J. Carmichael Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.