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RESCUE: COWBOY STYLE by REBECCA ZANETTI


Excerpt of Return to Falcon Ridge by Rita Herron

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Harlequin Intrigue
May 2006
Featuring: Elsie Timmons; Deke Falcon
256 pages
ISBN: 0373229186
Paperback
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Romance Suspense

Also by Rita Herron:

Suspicious Circumstances, October 2020
e-Book
Protective Order, September 2020
e-Book
Hostage at Hawk's Landing, March 2019
e-Book
Good Little Girls, August 2018
Paperback / e-Book
Pretty Little Killers, February 2018
Trade Size / e-Book
All The Dead Girls, December 2016
Paperback / e-Book
All the Pretty Faces, April 2016
Paperback / e-Book
All The Beautiful Brides, September 2015
Paperback / e-Book
My Evil Valentine, February 2014
e-Book
Cover Me, March 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Ultimate Cowboy, February 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Native Cowboy, January 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Dying To Tell, January 2013
Paperback / e-Book
Before She Dies, November 2012
e-Book
A Christmas Mission: Saving the Street Boys, November 2012
e-Book
Cowboy in the Extreme, February 2012
Paperback / e-Book
Brandishing a Crown, January 2011
Paperback
Unbreakable Bond, July 2010
Mass Market Paperback
Forbidden Passion, April 2010
Mass Market Paperback
Peek-A-Boo Protector (Harlequin Intrigue Series), September 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Dark Hunger, August 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Collecting Evidence, May 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Platinum Cowboy, February 2009
Mass Market Paperback
Silent Night Sanctuary, November 2008
Mass Market Paperback
Insatiable Desire, September 2008
Mass Market Paperback
Beneath The Badge, August 2008
Paperback
Memories Of Megan, June 2008
Paperback (reprint)
In The Flesh, May 2008
Paperback
Under His Skin, February 2008
Paperback
Up In Flames, December 2007
Paperback
Don't Say A Word, September 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Anything For His Son, August 2007
Mass Market Paperback
Say You Love Me, June 2007
Paperback
Justice for a Ranger, March 2007
Paperback
Force of the Falcon, December 2006
Paperback
Look-Alike, September 2006
Paperback
Last Kiss Goodbye, August 2006
Paperback
Return to Falcon Ridge, May 2006
Paperback
In a Heartbeat, March 2006
Paperback
Her Eyewitness, February 2006
Paperback
Vows of Vengeance, January 2006
Paperback

Excerpt of Return to Falcon Ridge by Rita Herron

Ten years later

"Please, Deke, you have to find Mrs. Timmons's daughter, Elsie."

Deke Falcon grimaced at his older brother, Rex, and Rex's new wife Hailey. Their lives had been in an upheaval for twenty years, ever since his father had been convicted of murdering Hailey's parents. Rex had fought tooth and nail this last year to free their father, and finally, uncovered the truth about the brutal slaying of the Lyle family.

Now Hailey wanted his help. How could he deny his brother's wife after all the pain she had endured? After the way she'd blamed herself for their father's lost years when she'd suffered herself. And Rex loved her senseless so now she was family, too.

Mrs. Timmons's hand trembled as she reached for his. Anger had been his friend for the past few years, but the subtle gentleness in her touch made him want to let go of the emotion. Trouble was, he didn't know how.

"This is the last picture I have of her," Mrs. Timmons said softly. "She was only four years old when she went missing."

He studied the faded, worn-out picture, knew Mrs. Timmons had looked at it constantly the same way he had the photo of his father that he'd carried in his wallet for two decades.

Elsie Timmons, at four, was a cute kid with a gap-toothed smile, a freckled pale face and long dark curly hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her big brown eyes were almost haunting.

Where was the little girl? Had her father kidnapped her, or had something more sinister happened? Was she lost forever?

"I thought my husband took her to hurt me," she said,

"but when they found that grave in the woods, I w-was certain she was dead."

"Those bones were too old to be Elsie's," Rex said.

"Which means she might still be alive and out there." Hailey's face brightened with hope. Hailey and Elsie had been childhood friends, and she had bonded with Elsie's mother.

Tears shimmered in Mrs. Timmons's worried eyes. "I...don't know if she'll want to see me," she said. "Or what her father told her about me, but I can't leave this world without trying to find her one more time."

"Hush that talk." Hailey squeezed the older woman's hands. "You're going to live forever, and Elsie is coming back to us. I just know it."

Anxiety wormed inside Deke's chest. What if he failed? What if he found Elsie and she wanted nothing to do with her mother? Or what if something awful had happened to her and he had to bring back bad news?

Could Deanna Timmons survive it?

Loyalty to her won out. She was the only person in town who'd stood beside Deke's mother when his father had been arrested. And he knew the pain of having someone ripped from his arms. His hope had dwindled with every year his father had been imprisoned just as Mrs. Timmons's hope had.

"All right. Do you have any information that might help?" Mrs. Timmons smiled although her lower lip trembled.

"I have the files the private investigator kept when he searched for her twenty years ago.At one time, he traced my ex south. I believe it was Alabama or maybe Tennessee."

She handed him a folder. "Thank you so much, Mr. Falcon. I can't tell you what it would mean to see my daughter again."

Deke swallowed hard. She didn't have to tell him. He'd felt the same way when his father had been reunited with the family.

Although nothing could replace the years they'd lost.... His chest heaved with tension as he finally looked up at Mrs. Timmons. As a falconer, he had a strong calling to the wild, to the animalistic nature within him. At times, he also experienced dark emotions, and his senses seemed heightened.

Those instincts told him that if he found Elsie Timmons, she would be nothing like the child in the picture. Something bad had happened when she'd left Falcon Ridge. She was entrenched in evil and darkness.

He'd have to figure out the trouble when he found her. And then he'd decide what to do with the truth.

Sweat beaded his lip as the need to flee into the woods gripped him. Thankfully, he managed to control his tremors as he shook her hand. "I'll do everything I can to find her, Mrs. Timmons."

His chest clenched at her trusting look, and he turned and disappeared outside. Seconds later, he ran through the woods, filling his nostrils with the scents of nature. Lifting his head toward the heavens, he searched the sky for the birds of prey that had come to be his friends.

Other than his brothers, they were the only ones he trusted. The only ones that could assuage the bitterness inside him.

DEATH WHISPERED her name.

Hattie Mae Hodges clutched the bedcovers with gnarled fingers as she peered through the blackness, searching for help. In her heart, she knew it was too late. She had made a deal with the devil years ago and had no one to blame but herself.

Still, she could not succumb to the terror. And she had no right to beg for mercy.

The sense of evil whirled around her, filling the hollow eaves and shadows of the house, reverberating through each icy corner. Trees rattled and shook snow against the thin glass panes, shrouding any remaining light from the deep haunting woods that surrounded them.

The sound of a footstep broke the eerie quiet. A heavy boot. A shuffle of his gimp leg. The smell of death.

"Go away and leave me in peace," she murmured, too frail and weak now to escape her bed or his unwelcome visit.

"I warned you, Hattie Mae. You must take your promises and the truth with you to your grave."

A second later, his hands closed around her neck. Darkness engulfed her as she choked for air, the blinding pain of his grip making her body jerk involuntarily. His sinister laugh reverberated through the room, muffled only slightly by the thick feather pillow he shoved over her face.

Images of the lost girls floated across her mind, as vivid as they were the day the children had come to her. Ann. Jessie. Marge. Carrie. Wanda. Felicity. Torrie. Elsie.

God...little Elsie Timmons.

Hattie Mae had promised them help. Redemption. Hope.

But she had let them all down.

Their terrified screams and cries of horror haunted her at night. The innocent babies stolen from their families, crying for their mothers long into the twilight. The girls' hollow, empty eyes filled with anguish as their own young were viciously stripped away, their bodies left with gaping holes where life had once grown, replaced with a pain so deep that it clawed at their insides, all the way to the cores of their very being.

All because of her husband.

No, it had been her fault.

She gasped for air, the acrid burn of her stomach rising to her throat. In her mind, the image of his charred body taunted her. God help her. She should have tried to help him.

But she hadn't. He had deserved to die, just as she did. Her chest felt heavy. Her limbs weighted. Her head was spinning. Tiny dots of lights twirled, then faded.

Hattie Mae went limp, too close to death to struggle any longer, ready to welcome the peace if any existed.

Please, God, forgive me. I will find a way to expose the sinful secrets of Wildcat Manor, she silently vowed. And to atone for my sins, if you let me.

A black cauldron of despair swallowed her. She had no power in death. Her soul was lost completely.

Unless she found a way to return from the grave to haunt him.

Two weeks later

ELSIE TIMMONS STARED at the letter from Hattie Mae Hodges in shock. She hadn't heard from the woman in ten years, had not spoken to her or heard Howard Hodges's name during that time, either. But their faces and the ghosts of Wildcat Manor had followed her everywhere she'd been.

And she'd lived all over the South since. Running from town to town. From name to name. Hiding out. Trying to find her way. Trying to escape the darkness and evil that tainted her own soul.

She blinked back tears of pain and fear as memories washed over her in a blinding rush. She had to compartmentalize them as she'd always done. It was the only way she'd survived.

Then she began to read.

Dear Elsie,

I hope this letter finds you well. Unfortunately, if you've received it, it means that I'm no longer alive. I carry my sins with me, my dear, but I want you to know how much I regret letting you girls down. I know I offered you hope yet stood idly by and allowed you to be robbed of that and so much more.

God may never forgive me, Elsie, but that's my cross to bear. I don't deserve your forgiveness, but I heard that you were a social worker now. You will do the good I should have done. For that reason, I am leaving Wildcat Manor to you in hopes that you'll turn it into the kind of place it should have been.

May God be with you, child, and protect you always.

Hattie Mae Hodges Elsie's hand trembled at the mere thought of returning to Wildcat Manor. Vivid images of Howard Hodges's body erupting into flames cut into her thoughts, the nightmares that destroyed her sleep shifting in front of her eyes. Outside, the wind howled through the mountains, the brisk temperature swirling through the thin rattling window panes, the ominous clouds threatening a snowstorm or at the least, heavy rains.

Her hand fell to her stomach as other memories flooded her. The shrill screams of the girls. The scent of chemicals and dust and...bodily fluids. The beady eyes of their tormentor flickering in the darkness as he approached in the heat of the night. The hollow feeling that consumed her afterward, the devastating pain of knowing that she had lost everything.

That she was not worthy of love.

No, she could not return to Wildcat Manor. Not now. Not ever.

Not even to try and make things right.

DEKE HAD SPENT TWO WEEKS tracking down Elsie Timmons. First to a hovel in Nashville. Then to Alabama. Then to Georgia. And now back to Tennessee to a small town set so deep into the mountains that a person might get lost forever.

But he and his brothers had expert resources. Their private investigative business had been housed in Arizona for the past few years, but with Rex's return to Falcon Ridge, they had established a second office at Falcon Ridge.

Elsie was on the run. Never stayed in one place for very long. Which meant she was either scared or hiding something.

Determined to find the answers, he parked in front of Bodine's B & B, then made his way up the sloped, graveled drive. A view of the mountains offered a peaceful retreat for guests, the valleys and gorges behind almost as magnificent as the ones in Colorado. A handmade wreath adorned the front door, composed of dried flowers and ribbons, and a three-foot-tall metal sculpture of a covered wagon graced the porch, flanked by two rocking chairs and an empty whiskey barrel.

Maybe the case would be a piece of cake. He'd introduce himself, inform Elsie that her mother had sent him looking for her and she'd jump at the chance to go home. The hair on the back of his neck bristled, though, mocking his theory.

Excerpt from Return to Falcon Ridge by Rita Herron
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