Excerpt: Shadows of Suspicion

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Chapter 1
Exhausted! That was the only word that could possibly describe the way she was feeling, Kerry Reiley decided as the plane finally touched down in her hometown of Colorado Springs.

A smile played around the corners of her mouth as she thought about the past weeks. Well she was happy too she silently amended, but right now exhaustion was foremost in her mind.

Shadows-of-Suspicion Ashley DawnKerry had just come home from the best possible holiday. Christmas. It was the most exciting and the most tiring Christmas she could remember. There would never be another one that could even come close to topping this one. Her family gave a whole new meaning to the phrase it is better to give than to receive. There had been so many presents under the Christmas tree it didn’t look like there would be room for anyone in the room.

She had walked into the room and laughed. It had been obvious that her brother, JJ, decided to wrap his own presents this year. Usually, he had a friend do it or the store he bought it from would gift wrap it for him, this year he said he wanted to wrap the presents himself so it would be more personal. To put it mildly, JJ was one hundred percent better at designing and building huge buildings than he was wrapping Christmas presents.

Her whole family had gathered at her parent’s Arkansas farm and had an amazing time. Since they were scattered all over the U.S., their parent’s farm was a central meeting place for all the siblings and it wasn’t often that their schedules allowed them to be in the same place at the same time. Often times they would miss each other by only hours, but it didn’t change the closeness of the family.

The day after Christmas, the whole family had gone to a Christmas service at the church they had all grown up in and it had been wonderful. The church had changed very little since her childhood, but there was more ‘family’ there with them this time. She felt so fortunate to have been raised in a church. Not many people were these days. It was good to know that she was going to spend eternity with her family. She was glad she would never have to go through the agony of knowing someone she loved was going to hell. She had friends that weren’t Christians but she tried to be a good influence on them and most of them eventually came to church with her.

The time with her family had been great. It was just like old times. But all those events weren’t anything unusual in a Christmas holiday at the Reiley house. What they’d done afterward had been. It had actually been a once in a lifetime experience for all of them.

After Christmas Day, everyone had scrambled to get ready for the wedding in Los Angeles. It wasn’t just a wedding, it was THE wedding. The first Reiley wedding, and it had been perfect. Her brother Jordan and her close friend Aurora Kavvan had been married on New Year’s Day. Midnight. Right as the ball dropped, they’d said their vows. It had been the most beautiful ceremony. Jordan had been so handsome in his crisp tuxedo standing there proudly waiting for his bride, and Aurora had been absolutely breathtaking in her floor-length pure white gown. The gown had been surprisingly simple, but it fit Aurora perfectly. There weren’t any extra frills added to the dress, just like Aurora. Joe had been so proud walking Aurora down the aisle. If she wasn’t mistaken, Kerry had seen the big softie wipe a tear from his eye as he handed Aurora over to Jordan.

Kerry smiled to herself; she wouldn’t be nearly as tired if Aurora’s best friend, Alex, hadn’t been sick. Alex had been Aurora’s matron of honor but she was pregnant and morning sickness was keeping her near the bathroom at all times. Her morning sickness was really an all-day sickness. Kerry felt sorry for Alex. She’d been so excited about planning and helping with the wedding and then wasn’t able to. The doctor had told Alex the sickness should have already ended but in some cases it lasted through the whole pregnancy. That wasn’t exactly what Alex wanted to hear.

Since Alex was so sick, Kerry had taken over all the jobs a matron of honor was supposed to do. She’d run all the last minute errands. Set up a bachelorette party, which had been a huge success. She was still patting herself on the back for that one. And she’d even managed to avoid her family’s obvious attempts at matchmaking. They really shouldn’t quit their day jobs, she mused as she got into her car and pulled into the heavy traffic. She sighed, glad to be in familiar territory.

This plane trip home had seemed twice as long as the plane trip out had been. She’d been gone from home almost five weeks running from Colorado to Arkansas to Los Angeles then back to Arkansas. It seemed like an eternity because so much had happened. She’d flown to her parents and stayed an extra few days after the wedding jut to visit her parents and old friends. She did envy her brother and new sister in law. They were off in Hawaii where it was warm and she was stuck in a snow-covered land. But it was a snow-covered wonderland to her. She hoped her neighbor, Mrs. Nelson, had remembered to feed the cat.

Kerry tapped her steering wheel impatiently as she searched for a good radio station. Why was there so much traffic?

She glanced down at her watch and groaned. Rush hour! She should have gone to get something to eat or anything to avoid this mess. It would take her an extra half hour at least to get home. Oh well. There was nothing she could do about it now. Her thoughts once again returned to the holidays.

All of her family had pitched in to help with the wedding. Aurora had no family so they’d simply engulfed her into theirs. Even her oldest brother, Edward, and his new fiancée, Amy, had taken off time from their busy jobs and helped with the planning of the wedding. Thanksgiving was the first time any of the family had met Edward’s Amy and from what Kerry observed; she was perfect for her brother. She reinforced that observation at Christmas. Edward was a doctor and kept odd hours and Amy simply fit her life around his when possible. Amy worked at the Los Angeles Zoo with the large animals. She loved it, even though it seemed dangerous to Kerry. Amy would be a great addition to the family. She acted as though she thought Edward hung the moon. Kerry couldn’t blame her, Edward was a great guy. Kerry wasn’t sure she was quite ready to help plan another wedding.

Aurora had looked overwhelmed when she’d joined them for Christmas. She’d expected to feel like an outsider and had been surprised when everyone treated her just like family. They had considered her family for a long time because everyone knew Jordan was still in love with her after she’d broken off their engagement. Kerry had known down deep in her heart that Jordan and Aurora would eventually get back together because her brother was nothing if not persistent.

Kerry’s other siblings had to go back to their jobs for at least part of the week between Christmas and the wedding, but she had the perfect job for this holiday. Teachers got the same break as the students. Well, almost. Teachers still had to figure out what they were going to teach but for Kerry that was fun and she didn’t really consider it work.

Jordan was a lucky man to have married such a great woman. Even so, Aurora had better take good care of Kerry’s big brother. Kerry was a little bit protective of him because he was protective of her. She knew there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her if she asked. That was one reason she loved her family. They could always count on each other.

The family had decided to make it the wedding of the century and Kerry thought they’d succeeded. She was proud of her family. They had been able to plan and pull off the wedding without a hitch with less than two months to plan. There had been so many people there it was unreal. Friends and family had flown in from all over the United States. Kerry hadn’t realized just how big her family was until they’d all gathered for the wedding. Add to that the numerous friends Aurora and Jordan had and that gave you an overflowing church.

The wedding had taken place in Aurora’s home church in Los Angeles. She’d said that was where she dreamed of her wedding taking place since she was a little girl and Jordan wanted everything to be perfect for her. It was a beautiful church and had been fun to decorate. As she’d decorated, Kerry had dreamed that someday she would be decorating for her own wedding. Maybe someday she would, but it wasn’t looking too promising. She was choosy about the men she dated.

They had to be friends first, that wasn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem she had was finding someone who shared her faith and beliefs. Most men thought that religion was only for women, children, and old people. Well, men she’d met anyway. She knew there were good men out there. She had four brothers that were perfect gentlemen and maybe they had spoiled her. Any time she dated she thought about how her brothers would treat their dates and none of the men she’d met so far had been anywhere close to as gentlemanly as her brothers were. Any woman would be lucky to get one of the Reiley men, but Kerry could think of very few who were good enough for her brothers.

She knew her brothers were good guys, but the whole family had known that Jordan would be the first to be married. He had the tenderest heart and the first time they’d seen him with Aurora there had been no doubting it. When Jordan looked at her you could practically see his heart in his eyes. Her other brothers were wonderful, but Jordan was the softie, especially when one of his sisters asked him for something. Often the brothers would give her and Tiffany a hard time about the trouble they got into but if they were needed her brothers would come as fast as they could.

Smiling she pulled up into her carport. She had a great family. Kerry felt a shiver run up her spine and turned cautiously to survey the house. What was making her so uneasy? She looked around the house. There was nothing out of the ordinary going on. Maybe she was just jumpy after the story Jordan and Aurora had told her. It had been terrible to hear the fear and agony in their voices as they’d told about knowing they were fixing to die at the hands of an assassin and then the awe that Jordan’s friends had appeared, miraculously saving their lives.

As she walked through the house she thought about what she would have for supper. Should she cook or order in? Well, she’d figure that out after she called her mother and checked in to say she’d made it home. If she didn’t, pretty soon mother might call out the National Guard to check on her.

As she reached for the phone, a hand covered her mouth and she felt the sharp blade of a knife at her throat.

“If you scream you’re dead.” A voice rasped in her ear. “Do you understand?”

She nodded her head, her mouth too dry to have been able to answer even if there hadn’t been a hand covering it. The hand moved and she inhaled for the biggest scream she could muster, but it never made it past her throat. The hand came back with a cloth that had a sweet smell. Strange. Then she was lost in total darkness.

“I think I’ll call and make sure Kerry got home all right. She should have called by now. She always calls as soon as she gets home, it’s not like her to be so inconsiderate and make me worry.” Kerry’s mother, Abigale said to her husband Ben and youngest daughter Tiffany.

Tiffany smiled at her mother. Kerry would have barely had time to get home by now, but her mom was right Kerry always called as soon as she got into the house. Still there was no reason to worry yet. She may have gotten stuck in traffic or even run into a friend. “Mom, as scatterbrained as Kerry is because of the wedding, she’ll be lucky to find her house.” Tiffany teased and both her parents smiled. Her mother’s smile was distracted as she once again checked the clock and looked at the phone. Tiffany got up and walked towards her room, as she passed her mother she bent and kissed her cheek. “I’m gonna go finish packing while you call Kerry.”

Her mother patted her cheek and smiled. “I’ll give her a few more minutes before I call.”

“Go ahead and call her, Abby.” Ben said as soon as Tiffany was out of earshot. “Otherwise you’re gonna worry yourself sick.”

Abby looked guiltily at her husband and he chuckled. “Well, go on.”

He nodded towards the phone. Abby smiled in relief at Ben’s understanding and hurriedly picked up the phone and dialed. It was answered on the third ring.

“Hello?” A gravelly, male voice answered.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Abby stuttered through her apology. “I must have dialed the wrong number.”

“No, Mrs. Reiley. You have the right number.”

“Then, who are you?” She demanded, now very afraid for her daughter. What if this man had harmed her? She looked to Ben who had sat up in his chair and was watching her intently. She motioned for him to pick up the extension and he moved quickly to comply.

“We’ll just say I’m a recent acquaintance of Miss Kerry.”

Abby made herself stay calm. “May I speak to Kerry, please?”

“I’m sorry but she isn’t available at the moment. But there is a message for her brother.”

Ben watched as Abby’s face paled and he put his arm around her, afraid she would fall over without support. He was terrified at what he heard but also mad. How dare this man take Kerry? His daughter.

“Which son?” Abby asked even though she had the sinking sensation she already knew the answer. It hadn’t been but a few months since Jordan had put a drug lord away and hadn’t been able to capture his son. She was almost certain this man was somehow involved in Jordan’s investigation. Maybe this was the son himself…what had Jordan said his name was?

“Jordan ma’am.” The man answered as though he thought she should already know. “Tell him as soon as he gets Charles released from prison, Kerry will be safely returned.”

“But he’s on his honeymoon. How are we supposed to get the message to him?” Abby’s mind scrambled with something else to say. She couldn’t let this man hang up. He had Kerry! If she let him hang up she would have no assurance of any connection to her daughter. She had to think of some way to help Kerry.

“Come now, Mrs. Reiley, I’m not stupid. Jordan wouldn’t have left without giving you some way to contact him in an emergency. Right now I would deem this an emergency, wouldn’t you?” Without waiting for a reply the man continued. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. Talk to him soon and I’ll be in touch.”

“No, wait…” She tried but heard only the ominous buzz of the dial tone. “He hung up.” Abby sounded close to hysteria, Ben tightened his hold on her and took the phone from her hand and hung it up.

“I know, honey. Let’s call Jordan and the rest of the kids. They will have the best answers as to what we should do.”

“What’s going on?” Tiffany asked as she walked back into the room. “Dad, what’s wrong with mom?” She asked, noticing how pale her mother was. She looked worriedly between the two.

“Come sit down, Tiff.” Ben told her. “We have to call Jordan and we’ll tell both of you at the same time.”

Tiffany obeyed her father but sat on the edge of the chair. She felt sick as she listened to her mother relay the story to Jordan.

“Is that exactly what he said, mom?” Jordan asked in a voice she could only describe as authoritative. Abby had never been interrogated by anyone and now knew why suspects cracked under her son’s questioning.

“It’s as close as I can remember, Jord.”

“Okay. We’ll be on the first flight home.”

It was then that Abby remembered exactly where her son was and why. “I’m sorry that you’re gonna miss your honeymoon.”

ordan’s voice softened to the one she knew and loved. “Mom, it’s not your fault. Besides Aurora and I have the rest of our lives together. Kerry is worth missing Hawaii.” Abby was once again reminded of how she had been blessed. She had six of the most wonderful children anyone could ask for.

“I know, son. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Aurora and I are praying.”

“So are we.” Abby said with tears in her voice. Up until now she hadn’t cried, but now she was sure the dam was breaking and there would be a flood of tears.

“I’m gonna call Rick and see what options we have.”

“Stay safe, son.”

“Always, mom.”

Jordan hung up the phone and looked at Aurora in disbelief. “I never even considered Chris would go after Kerry.” He leaned back on the bed and closed his eyes, hoping when he opened them he would find out this had all just been a dream. “I should have thought about that!”

Aurora leaned over him and waited until he opened his eyes and looked at her. She knew he was angry with himself but she also knew it wouldn’t do him or anyone else any good. “Honey, even if you’d thought about it, you couldn’t be with all your family all the time. That’s impossible. Everyone knew what happened to us and that Chris hadn’t been arrested. There was no way you could have stopped Chris. It seems like he has been planning it for a while. Whatever he’s going to do has already been well thought out or he wouldn’t have waited almost two months before retaliating.”

“We’re assuming it is Chris and not some loony who abducted Kerry and only sent me a message to throw us off his trail.”

Aurora had no answer to his statement. “Call Rick. He’ll know something we can do.”

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