[BookStrand Romantic Suspense, HEA]
When five-year-old Anna Burke goes missing in the rugged mountains of Wolf Creek Pass, can a stranger understand the clues and find her?
To survive the pain and loss of her own daughter’s kidnapping and murder, Layne Youngman has closed her heart to everything but helping others find their missing children. As she begins her search, it appears nearly everyone has a secret.
Rhys Burke is struggling to survive a bitter divorce. When Anna disappears while in his care, he is consumed with guilt and desperate to find his daughter. What he isn’t prepared for is the petite woman investigator who strikes a fire in his heart unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
Together they must find a way to unravel the clues, overcome the obstacles, and concentrate on finding Anna. What they don’t realize is the challenge may be more than they can handle.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Layne rushed from the room, her heart pounding with excitement. She found her clothing and quickly donned her shoes, not taking time to do anything with her hair. When she raced back into the room, Joe turned abruptly, obviously expecting them to follow.
Rhys looked at Layne and took her hand as they rushed from the room. It only took a moment to load three horses. Indian Joe merely grunted whenever they asked him questions.
“Where to?” Rhys asked as he drove the pickup down the lane away from his ranch.
“The pass. Wolf Creek Pass.”
Layne’s heart was thumping erratically as a shiver went up her spine. She could tell from the look on Rhys’s face that he was fighting to remain calm. Neither spoke. Layne watched Rhys concentrate on driving up the mountain, his face devoid of any emotion. She knew he was being careful to avoid hitting any deer that strayed onto the highway this early in the day.
The road threaded up into the pine-covered hills. The rock precipice came into view. No other cars were visible this early except a lone camper in the small campground.
“Here. We ride from here.”
Rhys pulled off the road and parked the truck.
“Joe”—Layne’s voice quivered—“have you found Anna?”
His brooding eyes looked right through her before he nodded toward the mountain. Neither Rhys nor Layne said a word. They unloaded and saddled the horses. Rhys helped Layne onto Sally’s back, and the three rode down the same trail that he and Anna had ridden that fateful day.
“Joe! Please tell us what’s going on.” Layne’s voice was high and shrill with emotion.
Indian Joe remained stoically silent and led the way. They passed a sheepherder’s camp and carefully rode around the flock of sheep. Dew was still on the grass, making it sparkle in the early-morning sunlight. They continued riding around the rocks and into the pines where the air was crisp and moist. Squirrels chattered, letting the forest animals know they were approaching. A small doe bolted in front of them, and Layne had to hold tight to keep from falling as Sally shied away.
After a few hours, they slowed and headed deeper into the forest, careful to avoid the large boulders scattered along the trail. Not another soul came into view, and Layne kept glancing back uneasily, constantly fighting the feeling of being watched. The mountains have eyes, she remembered Indian Joe saying. Still they kept riding. The forest became thick and dark even in the bright light of day. The brush and trees were so dense she had to duck often to keep from being scraped off and losing her balance.
Several times, Rhys attempted to get Indian Joe to explain, but when the big man ignored his questions, Layne shook her head, her eyes pleading with him to be patient.
They followed Joe higher up into the pass, but no one spoke a word. Indian Joe rode straight and tall, leading the way. Layne felt as if she were being taken to the ends of the earth. Still, Joe kept riding. Was this the secret? What were they supposed to find? They took no breaks. The day got hot. Insects buzzed around their heads. Layne swatted at the flies hovering on her moist skin. The horses grew damp from sweat, but Joe kept riding. Even though the sun didn’t light their way because of the tall, thick trees, the heat rose, causing the sap to ooze from the tall pines.
Just when Layne thought she could take no more, Joe motioned for them to stop. She breathed a deep sigh of relief, needing a break. She took a long drink of water from the bottle in her saddlebags. It helped somewhat, but still she was uneasy and nervous.
“We will walk from here.”
“Joe, where are we going? Where are you taking us?” Layne demanded as she stood with her hands on her hips while Rhys tethered the horses to a tree.
“You are still impatient.” He smiled knowingly but didn’t answer the question.
Once again, Joe led the way, and they began walking. The path grew steep very quickly. Layne had a hard time keeping up. Her shoes weren’t made for hiking, and twice she stepped wrong, causing pain to shoot through her still-healing ankle. When she nearly fell, Rhys was there and caught her.
“Joe, I can’t go any further without a rest. Please, can’t we rest?” Layne pleaded, hating to sound like a wimpy female, but her ankle throbbed, and she was having difficulty catching her breath.
He frowned, and Layne sat down on a round rock, breathing deeply.
She swatted at a couple of flies and used her sleeve to wipe the moisture from her brow.
“Are you all right?” Rhys’s voice was steady and low.
“I just needed a break.” Layne glanced up at Indian Joe, who stood tall, his eyes watching the trail.
Just as Layne took another sip from her water bottle, she heard noises, footsteps coming down the path. She looked quickly at Rhys, who reached for her hand. The steps got closer. She watched Joe, who motioned for them to wait.
“What is it?”
Rhys shook his head. “I don’t know. Just sit and remain calm. Joe knows these mountains. We’ll be fine.” He held Layne’s hand and rubbed her wrist while they watched and waited.