Read an Excerpt
By Meryl Sawyer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 M. Sawyer-Unickel
All rights reserved.
Instead of returning home after the dance, Kelly Taylor drove to her office. A lovers' moon hung over Cathedral Rock, illuminating the magnificent spire and the surrounding red rock formations. The blue-white glow cast deep shadows across the unique pueblo-style buildings, making the adobe appear a shade darker than it did in daylight. At times like this when most of Sedona was asleep and the only sound was the lonely, soul-stirring cry of a coyote seeking its mate, Kelly missed the big city.
Arizona had been her home for most of her thirty-one years. She'd lived in the East for the last decade, attending college, then working in New York City. Returning to Sedona, even though its quaint beauty appealed to her, took some adjusting.
She parked her temperamental Toyota in the newspaper's lot. The only noise came from the rear of the adobe complex where the antiquated press was cranking out the bi-weekly edition of the Sedona Sun.
Inside, Kelly dropped her evening bag onto her desk, then rifled through her messages, thinking she should go home. But deeply ingrained habits were hard to break. For as long as she could remember, she had slept until almost noon, then worked all night. Her usual schedule did not allow for time with Pop. And time had become all too precious.
"Go home now," she muttered to herself. "Set your alarm for sunrise so you can have breakfast with Pop."
A sharp, insistent knock interrupted her thoughts, echoing through the deserted building. A warning bell sounded in the back of her brain. Who would come to the newspaper office at this hour? The second knock caused the skin on the back of her neck to tighten.
She walked out of her small office into the semi-dark day room where two reporters shared a desk near the receptionist's bay. Sedona was a safe town, a haven for artists and writers who believed the majestic red rock formations inspired them. Along with the artists came the wealthy, drawn, too, by the awesome landscape and the ambiance of the cultured community.
She paused, her hand on the door knob. What was wrong with her? She wasn't the type who had premonitions. Well, the day after Christmas she would go to the sales, absolutely, positively certain she'd find something she simply could not live without.
But that was it, the extent of her premonitions. Even when she should have sensed something was wrong like the time she'd kissed Daniel good-bye or when she'd used an unreliable source, her intuition had failed to kick in.
So why now?
"For heaven's sake, this isn't New York or L.A.," she whispered to herself. "Everything's fine."
The rustle of sound beyond the door unnerved her, and she hesitated a second before she turned the knob. In the shadows stood a tall, handsome man with dark hair and lively brown eyes.
"Matt," she cried, stunned. "What are you doing here?"
He pulled her into his arms and gave her a hug that filled her with bittersweet sadness for the time when they'd been inseparable.
B. D., she thought. Before Daniel.
"Hey, Ace," Matthew Jensen said. "Why didn't you dress like this when we were working together?"
She looked down at the silk slip dress she'd chosen because the splashy violet print emphasized her blond hair and brought out the amber lights in her brown eyes. The dress nipped in at the waist, then draped softly over her hips and thighs. It had been perfect for the dance, but it looked ridiculously out of place in an office reeking of newsprint and ink.
"It's a long way from New York City to Arizona," she reminded him. "I just came from the Sedona Arts Center Ball. It's a must for anyone in business here."
She laughed and he chuckled along with her, his flint brown eyes reflecting the sense of humor Matt always used to his advantage. Still, it felt great to share a laugh. How long had it been since she'd genuinely laughed?
Since Daniel Taylor had died.
"Come in, Matt." She tugged on his arm and he walked into the semi-dark reception area. "What are you doing here?"
"I was in the neighborhood," he answered as they walked back to her office.
"Yeah, right," she said, puzzled about what could possibly have brought him out West. As certainly as her career had eclipsed, Matt's star had risen. He was now publisher of the New York-based news magazine Exposé, a major achievement for a man not yet thirty-five.
"Actually, I came to see you, Kelly."
"Really?" She didn't venture a sideways glance at him. The last thing she wanted Matthew Jensen to see was her cubbyhole of an office. Her official title was editor-in-chief, but in reality she did whatever it took to get the bi-weekly on the stands, from selling ad space to writing copy to billing. It was a long, long way from the city desk she'd once shared with Matt.
"Not only did I come all this way just to see you, I've been driving around until you showed up," Matt told her, and she almost smiled, knowing how much he hated to be kept waiting.
"Well, you found me, and this is where I work."
She waved her hand at the small room that had been her grandfather's office for over fifty years. A Timex clock beside an Arizona state flag dominated one wall while the other walls were covered with plaques and photographs, a tribute to Pop's status as a community leader. When she'd taken over his job, she hadn't had the heart to change anything.
Matt smiled or tried to and glanced down at the computer mockup of the next issue that was on her desk. "Liberating chickens? Is that for real?"
She sat on the edge of her desk, one leg slightly hitched up, blocking his view of what had to be the most asinine article she'd ever written. "What can I say? The Society to Liberate Chickens is holding a demonstration this Saturday. That's big news in Sedona."
Matt sank into the chair opposite her desk, sprawling in a loose-limbed way that was endearingly familiar. "You don't belong here. I want you back in New York working with me."
His words brought an ache of gratitude, and she managed to smile as she gazed into his dark eyes and saw he was serious. Of all the people to continue to have faith in her — despite her terrible mistake — it would be Matt.
"Thanks for your support," she said, justifiably proud of her calm tone. "My grandfather is very ill. I can't just walk out on him. Pop needs me to run the paper. Besides ..." She let the word hang there. They both knew she'd disgraced herself. Matt might want her, but the owner of the prestigious news magazine would be outraged.
"I have your ticket back to the show, Ace," he told her with a smile.
The show. New York. The big time. Last year she'd been there, poised at the pinnacle of success. An ace reporter. It had been a long, hard fall, a descent into oblivion symbolized by this small office and a headline about liberating chickens.
Matt leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his expression serious. "All you have to do is write one story. It'll take a little research. That's all." He smiled as if everything had already been decided. "Then you return to New York whenever you're ready."
"Sounds tempting," she admitted, "but what's the catch?"
He kept smiling, but his head tilted just slightly. Kelly had known Matt since their college days working on the Yale Herald. This wasn't going to be easy, yet Matt would never concede any difficulty. That's how he convinced people to work so hard for him.
"Remember the disappearance of the boy Senator Stanfield adopted?"
"Sure, it happened right here over twenty-five years ago. Parents still warn their children about it," she told him, wondering what this old news had to do with a breaking story. "On the anniversary of Logan Stanfield's disappearance, the paper recaps the story."
"I'll bet that issue sells more papers than any other."
"It's one of the best sellers," she conceded. "People are still fascinated. A little boy — just five — goes out for a pony ride and falls into a ravine. His older brother and sister go for help, but when they return, the child has vanished."
"I read the UPI clips on it. Senator Stanfield financed quite a search. Bloodhounds, the Mounted Patrol, helicopters, an Indian shaman, then private investigators scoured the country."
"I guess," she replied, even more confused about Matt's interest in the case.' It happened a few years before my parents were killed and I came to live here with my grandfather."
"Two weeks ago Logan Stanfield turned up."
"You must be kidding. They found the body? How did they ID him after all this time? Why doesn't anyone around here know about it? The Stanfields' estate is just outside of town. They're big news around here."
Matt leaned back in the chair and swung his legs up to her desk, resting his Ferragamo loafers on the wood. "They IDed him by matching his fingerprints with the ones on the adoption records."
"Back then, it was unusual to fingerprint a child. If he hadn't been adopted, I doubt if his prints would have been on record."
"The FBI is using a sophisticated computer with digitized fingerprint analysis. They've just added a lot of older files to their data base. They were running a top secret check for a special project when they discovered Logan is working out of the U.S. embassy in Argentina, using the name Logan McCord."
She slid off the edge of the desk and paced across the small office. "How did he get there? Where's he been?"
"That's the mystery, the interesting angle on the story. It's why I need your skills as an investigative reporter. Logan McCord didn't officially exist until his eighteenth birthday when he walked into a Marine recruiting office in Northern California and enlisted. The records don't tell us anything about his life before then."
"Wait a minute! He had to produce a hospital birth certificate to enlist."
"Not if you were delivered by a midwife. Then all you need is a form signed by a registered midwife."
The quiver of excitement built in her chest, the way it always did when she was onto a great story. "He must have had a social security number. Parents have to —"
"What if your parents were hippie types who wandered from town to town and never bothered to pay taxes? Logan McCord filed for his own social security card when he was accepted into the Marine Corps."
She tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "It still sounds fishy to me."
"Logan McCord claims he had no idea he was the missing child until the FBI computer matched his fingerprints with a set in the missing persons file. He thought the McCords were his real parents."
She turned and gazed at the picture of Pop with the governor. "You know, my grandfather was right. He thought a tourist was visiting one of the vortexes in the area. They discovered Logan and took off with him."
"Two weeks ago Senator Stanfield was notified his son had been found. Logan McCord took a leave and flew here to meet his family. I wouldn't know a thing about this except a top-secret source in the CIA tells me Logan McCord's security clearance is on hold until the legal questions about his name are resolved." Matt smiled, unable to conceal his excitement. "I'm wondering why the Stanfields have kept this so quiet."
Kelly dropped into her chair; the elation she'd experienced just moments ago had evaporated. "This isn't out of character for them. They're a rich, powerful dynasty headed by Haywood Stanfield. When something happens, they call the spin doctors."
Kelly tried to temper the sarcasm in her voice with a smile. She had absolutely no use for the snobby Stanfields. They had done their best to ruin her grandfather's paper just because he didn't share their political views. Granted, Pop often antagonized them with his scathingly critical editorials, but they were rich and arrogant.
"No wonder the Stanfields haven't announced the return of their missing son. Believe me, they're waiting to steal headlines nationwide," she told him. "Senator Stanfield is retiring and his son, Tyler, plans to run for his senate seat. This news will get media attention no other candidate can compete with."
"Maybe that's why they've kept quiet." Matt braced his elbows on the desk and studied her. For a moment it was like old times; they were sitting together, working on a story. "What if I told you that Logan McCord doesn't want to change his name to Stanfield?"
"I'd say he's smart," she replied before she could stop herself. "It's hard to believe, though, coming from a guy whose job it is to guard the embassy. The Stanfields are one of the richest families in this country. Their name alone opens doors that are forever closed to someone like that."
"Sorry if I gave you the impression the man was just a grunt stationed in front of the embassy with a rifle. He's part of the Cobra Force. They're responsible for anti-terrorist activities abroad." He rolled his eyes, then smiled at her. "God only knows what they really do. Cobra Force activities are classified top secret."
The beat of silence following his statement warned her. "Okay, Matt. What aren't you telling me?"
"I have the classified CIA report on Logan McCord out in the clunker I rented. Why don't you read it?" He checked his watch. "I've got to get back to the airport. I have a jet standing by to fly me to Dallas for a meeting. I'll give you my cell phone number."
"Save me some time. Tell me what the top-secret report says."
He turned his head slightly and gave her the half-smile she remembered so well. She couldn't help wondering what would have happened between them if Daniel hadn't come into her life. Then died so tragically.
"Kelly, the file indicates Logan has a psychological disorder. I'm not going to be surprised if the Stanfields want to distance themselves from him. The senator may be retiring, but he's still on everyone's short list to run for president. With Tyler Stanfield running for his father's senate seat, I don't think they want anyone looking into Logan's work with the Cobra Force."
"You're saying Logan was involved in one of those controversial government projects or something?"
"Absolutely." Without warning his hand closed over her right shoulder. "The military breeds certain men — like Logan McCord — who are nothing more than trained killers."CHAPTER 2
Kelly sat in the den of the ranch where she'd grown up, reading the file on the disappearance of Logan Stanfield that she had dug out of the newspaper's basement after Matthew had left. Last year when she had returned home to be with Pop, Kelly had moved into one of the guest houses on the property. She wanted to be near her grandfather, but allow both of them privacy. She often worked in the large den that was lined with books and family photographs rather than stay alone in the two-room casita where she slept.
There was something comforting about the room where she had done her homework in front of the river rock fireplace on cool winter evenings. Pop would be in his favorite chair, the old leather recliner, reading stories that had come over the UPI earlier in the day. When she was here, it was as if time had stood still and she was just a young girl again.
But time stood still for no man, she reminded herself as she gazed out the window into the darkness. She was grown now, and it was her responsibility to take care of Pop. Not that she minded. Even if her career hadn't just taken a nosedive when she had learned about Pop's heart attack, she would have returned home to be with him.
"Jasper, I wonder what Pop will think about Logan reappearing?" she asked the young golden retriever who was at her feet.
The dog cocked his head as if he really understood, and Kelly stroked his sleek ears. When Kelly had gone away to college and Pop had been left alone, he'd become active with Guide Dogs of America. He'd taken in a series of puppies and kept them until they were fifteen months old, getting them ready to train as guide dogs.
Pop had needed something to fill his life, Kelly reflected. He'd been a widower accustomed to living alone when Kelly's parents had been killed. Suddenly, he found himself cast in the role of being both mother and father to a young girl.
He'd done remarkably well. This room, this house, had been filled with love and laughter. If her own parents had lived, Kelly doubted they could have done a better job. She hardly remembered them now, recalling little more than vague images. Without the family photograph album, she would never have recognized their faces.
"What did Logan McCord feel when he heard the news?" she asked the dog. "Did he remember the Stanfields?"
Jasper licked her hand in response as Kelly stared at the grainy copy of Logan McCord's passport photograph that had been in the top secret file Matt had given her. The only known photograph of Logan McCord revealed a scowling man with close-set eyes and buzz cut that made it impossible to tell the exact color of his hair, but it appeared to be brown.
Excerpted from Tempting Fate by Meryl Sawyer. Copyright © 1998 M. Sawyer-Unickel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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