Read Lost But Not Forgotten Online

Authors: Roz Denny Fox

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Injuries, #Line Of Duty, #Recovery, #Lost Urn, #Rancher, #Waitress, #Country, #Retired Lawman, #Precious Urn, #Deceased, #Daughter, #Trust, #Desert City, #Arizona, #Hiding, #Enemies, #Ex-Husband, #Murder, #Danger, #Suspense, #Romantic Suspense

Lost But Not Forgotten

Gillian dropped her jacket on the floor

She sank to the bed, trying not to think about the long-term consequences of what she had in mind. Eyes steadily on his, she raised her arms.

She might have wanted him to say something. But the snick of the light switch plunging the room into darkness was all she got from Mitch Valetti.

His silence would have bothered her if he hadn’t undressed her with such reverence and touched her so tenderly that a lack of words didn’t matter. Tonight it was enough to know they were safe. To know that Mitch was one of the good guys. To know she was powerless to change how she felt about him and equally powerless to change their circumstances.

Mitch represented the very best of the good guys in Gillian’s estimation. If this short week was all the time she would be granted to love him, then so be it.

And if, by some miracle, she was already carrying his child…she would deem it a gift.

 

Dear Reader,

In writing
The Baby Cop
(July 2001 Superromance), I found Ethan Knight’s partner, Mitch Valetti, to be a character worthy of his own story. In the first book, Ethan and Regan were married in Mitch’s hospital room while he recovered from multiple bullet wounds. His love interest, Amy Knight, had begun seriously dating someone else and later eloped with her newest love. Few writers would be able to walk away and leave a nice guy hurting in body and heart the way Mitch hurt. Especially if that man indicates by word and deed that he would like to have a family of his own. So I promptly went in search of the perfect partner for Mitch, and found a woman who has lost the most important thing in her life—a baby. Gillian Noelle McGrath (or sometimes Gillian Stevens, her alias) is also on the run from a difficult situation. What better lap to land in than that of an ex-cop who hasn’t quite let go of his profession?

I hope you enjoy reading about Mitch and Gillian’s rocky path to love!

Roz Denny Fox

Readers can contact me by post or e-mail. My mailing address is P.O. Box 17480-101, Tucson, Arizona 85731, and you can reach me by e-mail at: [email protected]

Books by Roz Denny Fox

HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

649—MAJOR ATTRACTION

672—CHRISTMAS STAR

686—THE WATER BABY

716—TROUBLE AT LONE SPUR

746—SWEET TIBBY MACK

776—ANYTHING YOU CAN DO…

800—HAVING IT ALL

821—MAD ABOUT THE MAJOR

859—FAMILY FORTUNE

902—BABY, BABY

926—MOM’S THE WORD

984—WHO IS EMERALD MONDAY?

999—THE BABY COP

Lost But Not Forgotten
Roz Denny Fox

Lost But Not Forgotten
CHAPTER ONE

“Y
OUR HUSBAND
got himself into trouble, Mrs. McGrath. Dirty as sin, and big from the sound of it.”

The woman glanced uneasily around the empty precinct parking lot before letting her gaze settle on the kindly old cop Daryl had instructed her to meet in Flagstaff, Arizona. Fall was definitely in the air. Leaves from the cottonwoods skipped across the asphalt in the brisk wind. She pulled her jacket tighter. “Daryl and I…were divorced, Sergeant Malone,” she blurted. “Now he’s dead.” Her voice thinned. She raked a nervous hand through pale-blond hair that brushed her collar each time she moved. Tears welled in her pleading blue eyes. “I’m trying to say I don’t understand any of this.”

“Neither do I. But I watched Daryl grow up. I’d stake my life on him being a straight arrow, Noelle.”

“Shouldn’t you call me Gillian? Gillian Stevens is the name on the driver’s license and Mississippi car registration Daryl insisted I use…even though we live in New Orleans. Oh, nothing makes sense. How—
why
did he phony up a social security card and driver’s license?” She blotted away tears and braced her hip against the car Malone had just finished searching.

The portly cop, who’d been a second dad to her ex-husband, shook his gray head. “Daryl was scared, I can tell you that. His one e-mail to me is proof. I only wish I’d had the chance to explain I’m two weeks away from
retirement. This is the type of case for a young cop. On the other hand, missy, you’ve gotta be careful who you trust. A money-laundering operation the size of the one Daryl hinted at isn’t anything to mess with.”

“There must be some mistake. Daryl wouldn’t—” The prediction falling from her lips was cut short by squealing tires. Breaking off, she straightened. A sinking sun struck the windshield of a car bearing down on them. Splintered rays blinded Gillian.

Malone moved fast for an old man. Hooking a beefy arm around her waist, he spun her out of the path of the onrushing vehicle even as it clipped him hard.

She felt the impact separate their two bodies, and gazed in horror as the policeman flew up and was dragged twenty yards or so by a wildly careening blue car. She scrambled to the curb, not daring to breathe. Finally Malone was dislodged, and Gillian ran to where he lay crumpled on the pavement.

“Help!” she shouted at two uniformed cops who’d been heading up the steps into the station. They had either heard the blue car’s acceleration, or had seen the hit-and-run, and were already in motion.

Gillian’s limbs shook so violently she didn’t know how she’d managed to keep from fainting. Clearly Malone’s left arm and leg had suffered fractures. Blood trickled from his nose and mouth. “It was them,” she whispered. “The men who’ve been following me. I thought I lost them in El Paso.”

Malone had great difficulty breathing, yet he wheezed out instructions. “Get…the hell…out of here. Now. Go south. Hide.”

“No! I can’t. You need help.” Clutching his hand in both of hers, she kept shaking her head.

He coughed raspily. Gillian cried out again to the two
cops darting between parked cars. Both had drawn their weapons, but they seemed bent on chasing after the blue car instead of assisting Malone.

“Don’t be a damn fool,” Patrick choked out. “Run, but watch your step.”

His hand went limp in hers. Gillian laid her ear against his chest. She wasn’t sure whether the rattle she heard was good news or bad.

Stay or run?
Torn, she made a split-second decision that he, being a cop, knew best. It was a miracle her shaking legs actually carried her back to her car. After executing a wobbly U-turn, Gillian did her best to blend with the parked cars until she worked her way to the opposite side of the police station and merged with street traffic.

Less than a mile from the precinct, she came to a clover leaf and followed signs directing her south on the interstate. She spotted the blue car on an overpass. At least, it
looked
like the vehicle used in the attempt on her life.
She would be dead if not for Malone’s bravery.
The thought gave her chills.

Gillian fought the panic threatening to overwhelm her. Daylight was fading. Oncoming cars had begun to turn on their lights. She checked her rearview mirror for the umpteenth time before she realized it was impossible to tell the color of the cars spread out behind her. Sweat ran down her spine, welding her T-shirt to her vinyl seat cushion. She drove aimlessly, constantly peering over her shoulder.

Minutes ticked into a quarter hour, then to half an hour. Odd things registered. For instance, how flat the land was and how long it took for the sun to actually set. And it was warmer here than it’d been in Flagstaff.

Dusk gradually deepened, but she still didn’t know
where to hide. Fearful of being overtaken, she eventually left the interstate. So did several other cars. The blue car—she felt it drawing closer. After driving miles on the perimeter road, she saw a graveled road angling off to the south. Blindly, she turned. A series of bumps and pings made her flinch as gravel struck the car’s under-carriage. Her headlights illuminated a split-rail fence lining both sides.

The road’s condition required her to reduce her speed. She prayed that this obscure byway led to a small Western town, where she could find an innocuous, run-down motel. She needed to grab a nap and think out her next steps.

Provided
they
didn’t catch her first.

Of all the things crowding her mind, she suddenly remembered one—that today was her thirtieth birthday. What a way to spend it. Using an assumed name, running from thugs she didn’t know, for reasons not fully clear. Reasons involving her ex-husband’s CPA firm.

One thing that
was
clear—the thugs wanted her dead. They’d already killed Daryl. Suddenly. Violently. And then poor Officer Malone…

A stab of raw fear chased goose bumps along Gillian’s skin underneath the sweat.
She didn’t want to die!
The discovery itself surprised her. For the last ten months, she hadn’t cared one way or the other.

Once again her eyes strayed to the rearview mirror. There was blackness in her wake. She rolled her shoulders, wishing her mind would be still, wishing she could focus on her dilemma. Had she managed to elude the blue car? If so, good. Except…where was she? This road stretched into nothingness. “You were stupid, stupid, stupid not to stay on a better-marked highway,” she muttered to herself.

Bam!
The car fishtailed all over the bumpy road.

Gillian screamed. At first she thought she’d been shot at and she lost her grip on the steering wheel. When she reassessed the situation, jamming her foot on the brake, the car stopped inches from the fence. The way it lurched told her she’d blown a front tire. That was a relief, and yet it wasn’t.

Here she sat in the middle of God-knew-where. The landscape had gradually begun to change. What was desert had evolved into brush and trees along the fence. The minute she stepped from the car, she’d be vulnerable, a target for anyone hidden in among those trees. Dropping her forehead to the steering wheel, Gillian listened to her hammering heart.

She couldn’t drive on a flat. Nor could she sit there all night hoping for a white knight to ride up and save her.

Slowly, with shaking hands, she switched off the engine. Leaving only her parking lights on, she slid from the car on unsteady legs and quietly opened the trunk, using the penlight attached to her keychain for illumination. All the while, she prayed for a decent spare tire. Not for the first time since she’d been drawn into this insane ordeal did she long for the safe world she’d left behind. This was a nightmare. “Oh, Daryl, what did you get us into?”

She dug through the trunk and took out a satchel filled with emergency supplies—a lantern, a first-aid kit, bottled water and a box of granola bars. Some of her panic faded as she removed the two suitcases Daryl had packed for her. Even in haste, his attention to detail was reassuring.

Except now he was dead.

Refusing to allow useless tears, Gillian muscled out the spare tire. She tripped and almost fell over the smaller
of the two suitcases. Scooting it aside, she retrieved the jack and the tire iron. Thankfully, her father—rest his soul—had taught her to change a tire years ago. She hoped the skill came back easily.

Never one to procrastinate, Gillian bent right to the task. She’d just finished tightening the last lug when she felt, more than heard, a low rumble—a vibration in the gravel road under her feet. Glancing in both directions, she saw car lights on high beam coming toward her, along the section of roadway she’d already traveled. Gray shapes danced eerily along the fence row. Gillian’s pulse leaped wildly.

“Oh, no,” she sobbed. “They’ve found me!”

Her hands slick from sweat as well as grease, Gillian struggled to shove the blown tire into its rightful place in the wheel well. She’d have to stop at the next service station and get it fixed; the way things were going, she’d probably need it again. It landed crooked, hiked higher on one side so she couldn’t put back the carpet. There seemed to be far less room in the once spacious trunk.

Fear made her clumsy. She was all thumbs trying to force the large suitcase in beside the satchel. At last, the case slid inside. Dousing her penlight, she slammed the trunk lid closed.

The oncoming lights grew larger, like an angry cat’s eyes piercing the black night. Gillian fought the bile rising in her throat. She jumped into her car. Her hand shook so hard it took three tries to fit the key into the ignition. The approaching headlights were mere yards away when finally her engine caught and the car shot forward.

At the last minute, Gillian remembered her parking lights. She knew it was reckless to travel an unknown road without proper illumination. But the thought of what
would happen if the thugs caught her drove her to do unwise things.

Without warning, the lane narrowed further. Too late, Gillian realized this must be someone’s private drive. Maybe it led to a farmhouse, and she could throw herself on the owner’s mercy.

And ask them to phone the police?
“OhGodOhGodOhGod!” If Officer Malone had died, she had, in effect, fled the scene of a hit-and-run murder.

The lane came to an abrupt end. Or rather, it became a keyhole-shaped area in front of a single-story ranch house. A house devoid of light.

Frantic, Gillian braked and let the car idle. “Think,” she commanded. “What to do?” Massaging her temples, she willed her terror to subside. She dared not go back the way she’d come.

Her gaze swept the moonlit landscape. Her addled brain registered a barn and scattered outbuildings. Both the house and barn were flanked by pastures. Off to her left, about a mile as the crow flies, ghostly car lights bobbed, passing one another. This ranch apparently sat between the perimeter road she’d left and another highway that paralleled the mountains. All that stood between her and escape was a spindly fence and a few acres of raw desert.

Closing her eyes, she gunned the motor and smashed through the rails. Restoring her headlights, she prayed there was nothing on the flat expanse of land that would blow another tire. Bumping across the uneven ground, Gillian tried to keep an eye on the headlights rounding the bend of the lane she’d left. As she drew even, the other car seemed to slow down. Once again her heart climbed into her throat. She couldn’t bear to look. What
if they’d recognized her? Pressing hard on the gas, Gillian focused on escape.

 

M
ITCH
V
ALETTI
, former Desert City, Arizona detective, cruised along the private lane leading to his ranch. It’d been three months since he’d driven this route. Three endless months he’d spent recovering from bullet wounds at the home of his best friend and former partner, Ethan Knight. Mitch felt he shouldn’t have intruded as long as he had. Ethan and Regan were newlyweds. They already had their hands full caring for the quadruplets Ethan had rescued from an abusive home. The bastard who’d knocked those defenseless babies around was also responsible for firing three slugs into Mitch. Three slugs that had caused nerve damage in his leg and left him with a limp.

That wasn’t why he’d stuck around longer than he should have, all the while allowing a neighbor to care for his stock. It had just seemed easier than coming home, facing a life that was in shambles.

His odd melancholy tonight had little to do with his injury—which wasn’t his first. He’d survived being knifed in the stomach a few years back when he’d gone in alone on a domestic dispute call. His staying at Ethan’s wasn’t connected to the doc’s news that he’d be left with a permanent disability. Mitch had dealt with that early on. Almost immediately after waking from the extensive surgery, he’d made up his mind to resign from the force. To expand his horse herd. Although he’d told Ethan he might take a few private investigative jobs on the side. Just until his ranch stood on its own.

When Ethan and Regan tied the knot in his hospital room, Mitch thought his own future looked, if not bright, okay. He owned and leased enough land to raise horses,
had a serviceable home and loyal friends—including a woman he was pretty crazy about. Amy Knight, Ethan’s youngest sister.

Hell, he knew Amy didn’t feel the same about him. She flaunted the fact that she’d been dating Desert City’s prissy-faced, wonder-boy district attorney. Deep down, though, Mitch had assumed Amy would come to her senses. She hadn’t. Instead, she’d eloped with the jerk D.A. while Mitch was recovering. He’d never admit to anyone on the force how much Amy’s defection hurt. Especially not to Ethan. To Ethan and their fellow cops, Mitch represented the consummate swinging bachelor. In truth, Amy’s marriage had ripped the heart out of him. For the first time in his thirty-five years, Mitch questioned life’s purpose.

Oh, he knew his friends had seen a change in him and were worried about his moodiness. Because of that the Knights had insisted he stay on, and he’d hung around several weeks beyond when he probably should’ve bid the newlyweds farewell. Ethan had gone back to work right away, and Regan’s at-home social work private practice was taking off. The quads, two boys and two girls, cute little tykes, would probably miss him the most. Already he missed them. Darn, but those rascals had gotten under his skin. Wouldn’t the cops who gathered at Flo’s Café to eat and shoot the breeze get a walloping laugh if they ever found out he envied them their families?

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