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Abduction (Killer Instinct #1.5)

By´╝ÜCynthia Eden

on a date. That was all it had been, to Jessica.

"It's all right," Jill told her. "You'll be with your mom soon and you can-"

Footsteps rushed behind her. Help, finally coming. The EMTs ran into the room and pushed Jill back. She watched them, hoping, praying, so very desperate.

Jessica was shaking even harder now.

Jill looked down at her hands. The girl's blood covered her fingers. Her hands fisted. Her breath heaved in and out. Every heartbeat that passed seemed to echo in her ears.

Jill was still standing there, still watching them, when Jessica's eyes closed, when the girl took her last breath. The EMTs didn't give up, they kept trying to work, kept trying to bring her back but...

Jessica's body had gone still.

She had just...

Another victim. Another child taken.

Jill stumbled outside, her stomach in knots. The night air hit her face, slightly chilled, making goose bumps rise on her arms. The cases weren't supposed to be like this. She was supposed to help, not arrive in time to see a young girl die.

Tears pricked her eyes. The perp-that jerk Neal-was in the back of a nearby ambulance. He was alive. He was yelling at the agents with him.

Jessica was gone. Life was so unfair. So cold and dark and violent. She looked at the scene around her, the chaos, the pain, and then Jill glanced down at the blood that covered her hands.

I have to get away. I can't do this. Not anymore.

"Jill?"

She put her hands behind her back and glanced over to see Henry frowning at her. Henry had been her mentor from the moment she signed on to the team. He'd trained her from day one when she joined CARD. As he stared at her, she saw the pity in his dark eyes.

He knows I'm close to breaking.

"We'll need to tell the parents," Jill said, trying to make her voice sound strong. The mother. They'd have to tell the mother. Jill swallowed.

"I can do it," Henry offered. He always handled the families so well. He seemed to know exactly what to say to them. How to give them sympathy. How to let them grieve. "You did good work on this case," he told her, his voice soft. "You were the one to find the house, to trace Neal here, you were-"

"I was too late." That was the stark truth.

"This time," Henry said, his jaw tightening. "But there will be other cases, other children. You of all people know how important our job is."

Because of her past, yes, she knew. She also knew... "I have to talk to Jessica's mother." She needed to look the woman in the eyes and tell her that at the end, Jessica had been thinking of her. That her daughter had loved her. When she took a case, Jill saw it through to the end. But after she met with the Thomas family... Jill's breath shuddered out. "Then I think I'll take some of that vacation time I've been saving." Hoarding, more like. Work had become her life in the last few years. Only now, that life seemed to be tearing her apart.

"Good idea," Henry murmured. "Maybe you can go someplace warm. Someplace where you can forget about this coldness for a time."

She thought of Jessica's last words. "I think I'm going home," Jill said. Home. The spot of her greatest happiness...

And her most desperate moments.

* * *

HE SAW HER the instant she came into town. It wasn't as if it were easy to miss a woman like her. Jill West had always been able to stand out in a crowd. The sunlight hit her dark red head, making it gleam. She wore a pair of jeans that hugged her long legs, and she walked with an easy grace as she headed toward the pier.

Hayden Black stood inside of the bait shop, watching her as she moved with such purpose. It had been far too long since he'd seen Jill... Too damn long.

What were the odds that when she came back to Hope, he spotted her on that same damn pier? He hadn't thought that she would come back. Hell, he'd been planning a trip to see her in Georgia, but for her to show up now...in that spot...

He'd never been a particularly lucky guy. The luckiest day of his life had been when he'd met a cute redheaded girl on that same pier.




A girl with the greenest eyes he'd ever seen. A girl who'd turned one of the most hated punks in that town into a hero.

"You gonna watch her all day?" Jeff Mazo, the owner of the bait shop asked. "Or are you actually gonna go over there and tell that woman hello?"

Jeff didn't get it. The woman in question might not exactly be thrilled to see him. He and Jill hadn't ended things on the best of terms.

I lusted for her during my teens. When I became a man, she was all that I could think about...

Then she'd joined the FBI and he'd become a SEAL. Two different paths. Two different lives.

Now they were back. Both back in Hope.

Maybe it's not luck. Maybe it was more than that. Maybe.

"Never realized you were the nervous sort," Jeff snorted, as if he'd just found this discovery incredibly amusing. "Bet that made for some real interesting missions, huh?"

Hayden just shook his head, refusing to let the guy needle him. "Don't worry, Jeff, I'm just planning my move." More like hoping that Jill didn't tell him to get the hell away from her. He gave a little wave. "See you later, buddy."

He headed out on the pier, and the old wood was sturdy beneath his feet. The scent of salt water tickled his nose. Hope. The town was gorgeous, a sweet little hideaway on the Florida Gulf Coast. It was early spring, so the place hadn't gotten overwhelmed with tourists, not yet. Sure, a few hours away, the college kids were running amok at some of the bigger beachside cities, but Hope was quieter.

Softer.

Nothing ever happened in Hope.

Except for the abduction of a sweet redheaded girl...

The man who'd taken Jill had never been caught. And Hayden... For years, he'd woken up from nightmares in a cold sweat because of that fact. He'd been so worried that someone would take Jill from him.

And in the end, I'm the one who

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