Come to Me
Linda Winstead Jones

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“Then you’d better run,” Lizzie said.

Marilyn hung back while Danny took a silent step closer to the man with the baseball bat.

“You all saw me, you’ll report me and I’ll end up in jail. I’m already in enough trouble, thanks to you. I don’t need this.”

Lizzie gave another snort followed by a soft “Well, duh. You’d better run fast and far.”

A panicked Skinner lifted his bat into a threatening position and rushed forward. Sam raised his gun. Danny ran.

And Lizzie slipped her hand around Sam’s body and fired a Taser C2. A purple Taser C2, Sam couldn’t help but note. The small identifying papers flew from the cartridge. The probes found their target—midbody, perfect shot.

Skinner dropped to the ground. He let loose the bat and shook uncontrollably, making noises that spoke volumes about the misery he was in as electric volts worked through his body. He twitched and cursed and drooled. The sirens were now right outside the door.

Lizzie took her finger off the activation button, ending the stream of electrical current that had taken Skinner to the ground. When that was done, Danny took control of the man, moving the bat several feet away and taking the intruder by the wrist—even though at the moment Skinner was no threat to anyone.

Sam looked down at Lizzie, who stared at the gun in his hand. “Overkill,” she muttered.

Chapter 2

Lizzie still couldn’t get used to calling this house home. Her father had only lived in it for three years before his death four months earlier, so it had never been home to her. Sure, she’d eaten plenty of meals here, and she’d slept in the guest room for a few days when she’d moved back from school in Mobile, but still—she hadn’t grown up here.

The house was paid for. Her dad had planned for an easy retirement, and house payments were not on the agenda. He’d sold their old home and moved into this split-level, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath house south of Birmingham proper. This was the smallest house in a nice little neighborhood filled with young families as well as a retired couple or two and at least one other single person. She should’ve sold the house right away, but in a strange way she still felt her dad here, and she wasn’t ready to let him go. Not yet. So she’d given up her rented apartment and moved in three months ago.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” she asked, her eyes on the framed photo of her father, which she’d placed at the center of the kitchen table. She ate her soup and talked to him as if he were there. “Why didn’t you find Jenna after that wacko woman told you to leave them alone? Sure, Monica said they had a good life and that it was possible Jenna wasn’t your child, but how could you know she was telling the truth? If you hadn’t believed there was a very good chance she was your child, you never would’ve pressed the issue. Maybe she’s yours and maybe she’s not, but what if Jenna needs us?” If there was even an iota of a chance that this child was a blood relative—pretty much her only blood relative—she couldn’t let the matter go. For now, at least, she would think of Jenna as her sister. No more doubts; no more maybes.

Lizzie played with her soup. She’d been young when her mother had left and she wasn’t blind to the fact that yes, that traumatic event colored all her relationships. She was always waiting for the people in her life to leave, and like clockwork, they always did. Her sister deserved better; she would not abandon Jenna if there was any chance the girl needed her.

Maybe she had serious abandonment issues, maybe she was starved for family, and yes, maybe she wanted a sister so badly she was willing to look past all the trouble she was stirring up. Sam was right when he said news like this would turn a child’s world upside down, but it just didn’t seem right not to at least check on the girl.

Lizzie’s soup grew cool and still she stirred and took the occasional small bite. She’d always dreamed of having a sister. Someone she could talk to. Someone she could tell everything. Someone who would laugh with her and play jokes on Dad and help her choose clothes. Lizzie did not have the fashion gene. In the balancing ways of the universe, surely a sister would. In her fantasies this sister wasn’t twelve years younger and living God knows where, but if this was all she had, she’d make it work. If Jenna needed her, that is. If showing up wouldn’t ruin the girl’s well-ordered life.

“How could you not tell me?” she asked angrily, and then she turned her dad’s picture facedown on the table. She missed her father, she grieved for him, she loved him dearly. And still, she was furious with him for keeping this secret. If he’d keep one secret this big, how many others were there? What else didn’t she know?

Lizzie had just started loading the dishwasher when the doorbell rang. Startled, she almost jumped out of her skin. Callers were not common here, not since the busy days following the funeral. She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and headed for the front door. How pathetic that a visitor was a shock! She was so wrapped up in her work that she didn’t have a very active social life. No boyfriends, only casual girlfriends since most of her pals had gotten married or moved away from the area, no neighbors she was particularly close to.

Finding Sam Travers on her doorstep was a surprise. Normally she might think it a pleasant one, but the way he was glaring at her, pleasant was not the first word that came to mind. He clutched the letters she’d given him in one hand.

“What’s wrong? I just left you two hours ago.” Hope welled up in her, almost a physical sensation. “Have you already found her?”

Sam stepped closer, and she moved back, and the next thing she knew he was striding into her house as if he lived there. That gray suit must’ve been made for him, the way it draped perfectly on his lean—but not too lean—body. He was grace and strength, hardness and beauty. How could a man in a conservative suit be so intimidating?

“Nothing is wrong,” he said, “you left me three hours ago, and no, I don’t have anything to report just yet.”

“Oh.” The hope that had surged through her died as quickly as it had been born. “Why are you here?” Lizzie longed for the comfort and boundaries of the big desk that had separated them at his office for the majority of her visit. Sam looked bigger, more intimidating in her living room than he had in his office, perhaps because she wasn’t prepared to face him here and now. Perhaps because she knew his jacket disguised a shoulder holster and a gun. Perhaps because he wasn’t exactly the man she remembered.

He turned accusing eyes to her. “I wanted to make sure you were all right after the excitement at the office.”

“After I shocked the guy who was coming after you with a baseball bat, you mean.”

“Yes,” he said crisply.

“I’m fine.” She smiled. “You look so surprised. Do you think my father would raise a daughter who wasn’t prepared for anything and everything? Do you think he didn’t teach me to defend myself?”

“You use the Taser often?” Sam snapped.

“This was my first time. First time to use a Taser on a real person, that is. Naturally I’ve practiced on targets and such. Well, once I practiced. I can shoot, of course, but I really prefer a nonlethal form of self-defense.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. Her dad hadn’t made any secret of the fact that when Sam had taken down the shooter who’d killed a young cop and wounded two others, it had been a life-changing event. There were those—in the department and out—who thought Sam had acted too quickly and with unnecessary finality, that he should’ve tried to take the guy alive. No one had said anything so outrageous until they’d found out the shooter was barely seventeen, as if the victim would be less dead if the shooter was older. That one night, that one shot, had ended Sam’s time on the force. Apparently it had also eventually ended his marriage. “I didn’t mean…” she began, but Sam shrugged her off and changed the subject.

“We also need to talk about your situation,” he said. He sounded a little tired. “Before I go any further, are you sure…”

“I wouldn’t have hired you if I wasn’t sure,” Lizzie interrupted. “Why are you being so difficult? Isn’t this what you do? Don’t you find people for a living? Do you always try to talk clients out of hiring you?”

“If Charlie had wanted you to know about this child, he would’ve told you years ago.”

Lizzie shook a stern finger in Sam’s direction. “Don’t mention his name to me right now. I’m so annoyed with my father, I swear if he was here right now I’d… I’d…”

“Shoot him with your Taser?”

“Maybe,” Lizzie snapped. “He certainly deserves a good shock. He lied to me. You’re not supposed to lie to the people you love. You’re not supposed to keep secrets from your family. I have a sister, a sister I knew nothing about. Jenna is the only blood relative I have, outside my mother, and he kept her from me. Now I’m supposed to forgive him just because he’s dead?”

“There is some doubt about whether or not the girl is actually…”

“Until and unless you prove otherwise, I consider Jenna my sister. If there’s even the smallest chance that’s the case, I have to approach the situation as if there’s no doubt at all.”

Sam looked decidedly uncomfortable, and he changed the subject. “How is your mother, by the way?”

“How the hell should I know?” Lizzie turned and headed for the kitchen, angry that stinging tears had filled her eyes. “I haven’t seen her in two years, haven’t spoken to her since I called to tell her Dad had died. We don’t have what you would call a healthy mother-daughter relationship.” Too much information, too fast. “Can I get you some coffee? Maybe some soup?”

“No, thanks,” Sam said, but he followed her into the kitchen.

Sam walked to the kitchen table, where an almost-empty bowl of soup sat. “I interrupted your dinner.”

“I was finished,” Lizzie said, fiddling with the coffeepot so she wouldn’t have to face him and reveal her tears. He knew she was still fighting her emotions because she didn’t tell him what kind of coffee she was making, which mug she would choose and why, what kind of coffee she’d had that morning, and so on and so on.

He reached out and lifted the thin metal picture frame which lay facedown on the table, righting it to reveal the image of his old partner, his old friend. Lizzie must be really upset with Charlie to put his picture down this way. Sam figured now was probably not the time to tell Lizzie that he’d known about Jenna’s existence for years.

That wasn’t what Lizzie wanted to hear, not just yet. Hell, not ever.

Lizzie was so much like her father. Charlie had said almost exactly the same words, years ago. If there’s the smallest chance the child might be mine, I can’t turn my back on her. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Monica Yates had had other plans.

“I’m making decaf,” Lizzie said, her voice noticeably more steady than before. She’d chased away the tears, buried her emotion deep. “Since you’re still here and I don’t want to be rude and drink in front of you, would you like a cup?”

“Sure,” he said absently, righting Charlie’s picture. It wasn’t fitting for the man to be facedown on his own kitchen table.

For a moment Lizzie watched while the coffeemaker sputtered and spewed, and then she turned to face Sam, dry-eyed and chin held high. While he hadn’t been watching, the young girl he remembered had turned into a beautiful woman. The years hadn’t entirely erased the quirks and the awkwardness, but those traits had been softened. She’d bloomed. She’d matured. If she wasn’t Charlie’s little girl and if they’d met under different circumstances… Who was he kidding? Lizzie Porter was seriously off-limits. She was a client, and that was the beginning and the end.

“If you’re going to continue to try to change my mind, then walk away now and I’ll hire someone else,” she said, stubborn as she’d been as a teenager. “I’ve wasted enough time. I’m not going to waste another minute arguing with you or anyone else.”

He couldn’t allow her to hire another investigator. Half the P.I.s in town were hacks who were unqualified, dishonest or both. Besides, in the current position he had some control over what she learned, when and how. Sam was torn between what Charlie had obviously wanted and what Lizzie wanted—needed—to know. She was going to find out the truth, sooner or later, and like it or not, the news would come from him. Before he broke the news to her he wanted to know exactly what sort of situation Jenna was in. Charlie’s secrets, Lizzie’s pain, Jenna’s needs. He was going to have to weigh them all. “That won’t be necessary.”
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