Come to Me
Linda Winstead Jones

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“When will you get started?”

“First thing tomorrow morning.”

“I suppose you’ll do a search on the Internet first. I tried, but I have no patience and it was so slow, and there was nothing on a Monica Yates that I thought might be the Monica I was looking for, and besides, I assume you have access to files and sites that I can’t touch with a ten-foot pole.” She gave him a smile that was slightly strained. “I wonder if Jenna lives very far away or if she’s still in Alabama. For all I know she’s on the other side of the world. It doesn’t matter. I want to see her.”

“Leave the details to me.” Sam didn’t think now was the time to tell Lizzie that her newly discovered sister lived not fifteen minutes from this very house.

Lizzie snatched her bowl of soup from the table, dumped the remains of her sad supper into the garbage disposal, rinsed the bowl and stuck it in the dishwasher. She didn’t lean on people; it wasn’t her way. So why was she tempted to fall into Sam’s strong arms and melt into him? Why did she want to make him part of her world?

Old fantasies died hard, apparently.

He remained silent while she finished cleaning up and then poured two cups of coffee. She remembered that Sam took his black, or at least he had years ago. She liked lots of sugar and cream in her coffee. When she placed the two cups at the kitchen table, where Sam sat as if he belonged there, she sighed, sat and said, “You’re right.”

“Right about what?” He grasped his mug but didn’t take a sip of the steaming coffee.

“I don’t want to turn Jenna’s life upside down. I don’t want to hurt her.” She saw the all-too-evident relief on his face, a face that had played a part in all her teenage fantasies—until he’d lost his mind and married a massively chested airhead. “That doesn’t mean I want you to drop the case.”

He didn’t look quite so relieved anymore.

“I want to see her. From a distance, if that’s all I can get. Maybe we can find a way for me to meet Jenna without telling her who I am, if she’s happy and well cared for.”

Sam seemed slightly reluctant, still, but he nodded in agreement before lifting the mug to his lips to take a sip of the decaf. Maybe he’d finish his coffee quickly and leave, since he’d failed in his mission to convince her to give up finding her sister. Maybe he wouldn’t finish it at all, but would take that one sip and then find a reason to leave. It was easy for people to do, she had learned, finding a reason to leave.

He put his mug on the table, looked her in the eye and asked, “So, how have you been, really?”

This was different than the conversation they’d had in his office. This was her home, her father’s home, and there was something intimate about sitting at the kitchen table. “Good,” she answered.

A slow grin spread across Sam’s face, transforming it, making Lizzie’s heart do strange things she hadn’t expected after all this time. “Since I’ve known you, and we’re talking a long time, you have never answered any question with a single word. Never. Good? That’s it?”

Something inside Lizzie uncoiled as she lost herself in that grin. A moment later she was telling Sam everything, from her stint at school in Mobile to the founding of her own business, to the funeral he’d missed, to clearing out her dad’s stuff and finding the stack of old letters from Monica Yates. He listened. His eyes never glazed over. He didn’t look at his watch, not even when she lost her train of thought and rambled a bit. The fading light through the kitchen window marked the passage of time; he refilled their coffee cups and brought sugar and cream to the table for her. It was comfortable and natural, as if the years had fallen away.

Only she wasn’t fourteen, there was no clinging, empty-headed wife hanging on his arm, and her father wasn’t here with them.

When she asked, he told her the latest news on his family—an oft-married mother who lived in Sarasota, Florida with husband number four, a workaholic brother who lived in Atlanta, a married sister with four kids who lived in Arizona. Sam’s father had passed away before she’d met him, before he’d joined the Birmingham police force. His family wasn’t physically close, but it sounded as if they e-mailed and spoke on the phone fairly often, and there were occasional reunions. She envied him his family.

After she’d basically filled him in on the past six years of her life and he’d skimmed over his, she asked him the question that had been plaguing her since she’d walked into his office and found him annoyingly handsome and appealing. “So, no girlfriend?”

He was surprised by her question, or perhaps by the blunt way in which the question was delivered. His eyes widened slightly, but then he smiled. “Why do you assume I don’t have a girlfriend?”

“You’re here. You haven’t checked your watch once. No annoyed and neglected woman has called on your cell to see where you are at this late hour. There were no personal pictures in your office, except one of you and Dad and some fish.”

“You’re quite the detective,” he said, and then his eyes hardened, the way they sometimes had during this long day. “No, there’s no girlfriend. I like my life as it is, and there’s no room in it for a permanent relationship. I’ve been married once and it didn’t work out well. I’m not the devoted husband and father type, so it’s just as well Dottie Ann and I called it quits before we made the mistake of reproducing. These days I answer to no one, and I like it that way.”

“Don’t you want to get married and have kids someday?” Didn’t everyone want that?

“That’s not for me,” Sam said easily, so she knew it was the truth. It was kinda sad that he actually liked being alone.

“I knew it,” Lizzie said calmly, determined not to turn this into a deep, serious, uncomfortable conversation that would send him running for cover. She opted for childish teasing instead. “The most telling clue of all is the fact that your socks don’t exactly match.”

Sam pushed away from the table and glanced down at his feet. “They do so match, dammit.”

Lizzie smiled. “Gotcha.”

Feelings that she didn’t need and he didn’t want were too close to the surface at the moment. A childish “made you look” would change the tone, and maybe even make her forget, for a minute or two, that although she’d never actually had Sam, she’d never gotten over him, either.

Chapter 3

Sam sat in a nondescript gray sedan, which was parked across the street from an impressive gated mansion. Finding out precisely where Jenna Aldridge lived hadn’t been very difficult, since all along he’d had information Lizzie had not—Monica Yates’s last name after she’d married her first husband, one elderly and insanely wealthy Harold Aldridge.

He’d had the information last night before he’d gone to Lizzie’s house with the intent of changing her mind about finding the girl who might be her half sister—a fool’s errand, and he should’ve realized that before he got in his car to go to her house. Lizzie was doggedly stubborn. She didn’t change her mind. At least the child he’d known had not, and from what he’d seen thus far, the woman was just as mulish.

When Monica Yates had gotten pregnant, Charlie had been determined to do the right thing. Problem was, Monica had no intention of marrying him. She never had. There was another man in her life, Harold Aldridge, and that was the man she intended to marry. She’d even told Charlie that she couldn’t be certain he was the baby’s father. Could be Harold, she said. Yeah, right. Sam had suspected all along that Monica had just used Charlie like a sperm donor, to do what Harold could not.

She’d begged Charlie not to tell Harold about their affair. She’d begged him to forget she and the baby existed. That hadn’t been easy for Charlie to do. He’d always been a man of responsibility, character and honor. It had taken a lot of phone calls and a few letters—letters Charlie had saved—to convince him that biologically his or not, the child was better off without him in her life. But once she had, Charlie had resisted his own emotional pull and only checked in on Jenna every few years.

Monica’s plan had worked well. Before Jenna turned four, her “father” died, leaving mother and child incredibly wealthy. A few years later Monica had remarried—another man with money—and not long afterward she’d passed away suddenly. The ambitious woman had a bad heart, and while she’d had the very best doctors, her surgery had not been successful.

Money couldn’t buy everything after all. That must’ve galled Monica to no end.

Jenna Aldridge had been left in the care of her stepfather, one Darryl Connelly. They were rolling in money, Jenna was enrolled in the most prestigious private school in Birmingham, they vacationed all over the world. When Charlie had learned about Monica’s death, he’d renewed his interest in Jenna, a girl who might or might not be his daughter. Like Lizzie, he wanted to make sure the child was in good hands.

In the end he’d assured himself she was safe and happy, and even though it had hurt more than he’d admitted to anyone, he’d walked away. All Sam had to do was convince Lizzie to do the same.

The front door to the mansion opened, and a young woman walked out. Jenna Aldridge was taller, more mature than she’d been in the last photo Sam had seen of her. Still, she was twelve years old. A child. A long black car crept slowly around the circular driveway, momentarily blocking Sam’s view of the girl. The driver, a large man who probably also served as a bodyguard, left the driver’s seat to open Jenna’s door. The two exchanged a few words. Both smiled. So far so good.

The car headed Sam’s way. There was a collection of survey equipment and a stack of very official-looking forms in the backseat, in case anyone decided to question Sam’s right to be here. He even had a very fine fake ID that would get him past a quick inspection.

But none of that was necessary. The long car transporting Jenna Aldridge to school drove past, and neither of the occupants gave Sam more than a passing glance.

Jenna Aldridge had everything any child could ask for, and to pop in and turn the girl’s world upside down with news she didn’t want or need would be devastating. Still, Lizzie needed to see what Sam had just seen; she needed to see with her own eyes that this child who might be her half sister was in good hands.

He took a quick picture of the house, not for a moment thinking it would be enough to make Lizzie back off.

Sam had pulled away from the curb and made it to the next corner when a white Jaguar convertible passed him. The blonde at the wheel was heavily made up and dressed in a snug-fitting lightweight sweater that matched her car. Jewelry flashed in the sunshine; bracelets, a gold necklace, a huge ring on the hand that rested on the steering wheel. He watched in the rearview mirror as she pulled into the driveway Jenna Aldridge’s car had just exited.

Curious, Sam turned around at the corner and slowly made his way back down the street. The Jag pulled up to the front door, and the blonde exited the flashy car with a bounce in her step. Before she could reach the front door it opened, and Darryl Connelly greeted her with a wide smile and open arms she rushed into with eagerness. Feeling as sleazy as he had in the early days when he’d had to take a lot of unsavory divorce cases in order to pay the bills, Sam lifted his camera and snapped a quick photo.


Lizzie arrived at Sam’s office bright and early on Saturday morning, a few minutes before the agreed time of 7 a.m. Sam was already there, going over paperwork, looking much too fresh and chipper for the hour. When had Sam Travers become a morning person?

No suit today, she noted. He looked more like the Sam she remembered, in jeans and a plain gray T-shirt. So where was the gun? She was quite sure it was handy. It was sad, that he felt he always had to have that weapon close. When he’d said he slept with the gun under his pillow, had he been exaggerating?

“Good morning,” she said as she rushed into his office with her toolbox and gigantic tub of putty and a roll of plastic. She was dressed for the job in an ancient pair of baggy jeans and an old tee that advertised a local bank. Both were paint splattered, revealing an array of colors she’d used in the past year. She was a walking advertisement for her own work.

Sam glanced up, took in her attire and smiled. “Did you manage to get any paint on the walls?”

“Very funny.” She carefully placed her things on the floor and surveyed the office, trying to decide where to start. The walls really were awful, with dings and dents and holes where pictures had once hung. Sam’s office wasn’t only dull, it was imperfect. It was seriously flawed. This she could fix.
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