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Nora Roberts

The Search

To

HOMER AND PANCHO,

and all who sweetened my life before them

Part One

Properly trained, a man can be a dog’s best friend.

Corey Ford

One

On a chilly morning in February with a misty rain shuttering the windows, Devin and Rosie Cauldwell made slow, sleepy love. It was day three of their week’s vacation—and month two of their attempt to conceive a second child. Their three-year-old son, Hugh, was the result of a long weekend on Orcas Island in the San Juans and—Rosie was convinced—a rainy afternoon and a bottle of Pinot Noir.

They hoped to repeat their success with a return visit to Orcas, and happily applied themselves to the mission at hand while their toddler slept with his beloved Wubby in the next room.

It was too early in the day for wine, but Rosie took the quiet rain as an omen.

When they were snuggled up together, loose and warm from sex, she smiled.

“Who had the best idea ever?”

Devin gave her ass an easy squeeze. “You did.”

“Hang on, because I just had another one.”

“I think I need a few minutes, first.”

She laughed, rolled and propped herself on his chest to grin at him. “Get your mind off sex, Sleazy.”

“I think I need a few minutes for that, too.”

“Pancakes. We need pancakes. Rainy morning, our cozy little house. Definitely calls for pancakes.”

He squinted at her. “Who’s making them?”

“Let the fates decide.”

She scooted up, and in a long-standing Cauldwell family tradition they let the balance hang on Rock, Paper, Scissors—best two out of three.

“Damn it,” she muttered when he crushed her scissors with his rock.

“Superior skill wins out.”

“My ass. But fair’s fair—and I have to pee anyway.” She bent down to give him a smacking kiss, then jumped out of bed. “I love vacation,” she said as she dashed into the bathroom.

She especially loved this vacation, she thought, with her two handsome men. If the rain kept up, or got heavier, they’d play games inside. But if it let up, maybe they’d strap Hugh in the carrier and take a bike ride, or just go for a long hike.

Hugh just loved it here, loved the birds, the lake, the deer they’d spotted and of course the rabbits—all brothers to his faithful Wubby.

And maybe he’d have a brother of his own in the fall. She was ovulating—not that she was obsessing about getting pregnant. But counting days wasn’t obsessing, she thought as she caught her sleep- and sex-mussed hair back in a band. It was just being self-aware.

She grabbed a sweatshirt and some flannel pants, glanced back at Devin, who’d gone back to snoozing.

She really thought they’d hit the money shot.

Delighted with the idea, she pulled on heavy socks, then glanced at the watch she’d left on the dresser.

“Gosh, it’s after eight. We must’ve worn Hugh out last night for him to sleep this late.”

“Probably the rain,” Devin mumbled.

“Yeah, probably.”

Still, she turned out of their room for his, as she did every morning, at home or away. She moved quietly, content to let him sleep—a bonus if she could grab her first cup of coffee before she heard the first Mommy of the day.

She peeked in, expecting to find him curled up with his stuffed bunny. The empty bed didn’t bring panic. He might’ve gotten up to pee, just as she had. He’d gotten so good with his potty training.

Even when she didn’t find him in the little bathroom off the hall, she didn’t panic. Since he was habitually an early riser, they’d encouraged him to play for a bit before waking them. She usually heard him, talking to his toys or running his cars, but she’d been a little distracted having vacation sex.

God, she thought as she started downstairs, what if he’d looked in when they were doing it? No, he’d have walked right in and asked what game they were playing.

With a half laugh, she turned into the pretty living room, expecting to see her little boy on the floor surrounded by the toys of his choice.

When she didn’t, the first fingers of unease tickled up her throat.

She called his name, moving quickly now, sliding a little on the hardwood floors in her socks.

Panic struck, a knife in the belly.

The kitchen door stood wide open.

Shortly after nine, Fiona Bristow pulled up at the pretty vacation house in the heart of Moran State Park. Rain fizzed along the ground more than pattered, but its steadiness promised sloppy tracking. She signaled her partner to stay in the truck, then got out to approach one of the local deputies.

“Davey.”

“Hey, Fee. You got here fast.”

“I didn’t have far to go. The others are on their way. Are we using the house for base camp or do you want us to set up?”

“We’re using it. You’ll want to talk to the parents, but I’ll give you the basics. Hugh Cauldwell, age three, blond and blue. Last seen wearing Spider-Man pajamas.”

Fiona saw his mouth tighten a little. Davey had a boy about the same age as Hugh, and she imagined he had a pair of Spider-Man pj’s, too.

“The mother first noticed he was missing at about eight-fifteen,” Davey continued. “Found the back door open. No visible signs of forced entry or an intruder. The mother alerted the father. They called it in right away, and they ran around, calling for him, looking in the immediate area.”

And tracked up the place, Fiona mused. But who could blame them?

“We did a house-and-grounds search, to make sure he wasn’t just hiding.” Davey turned back to Fiona with rain dripping off the bill of his cap. “He’s not in the house, and his mother says he has his stuffed bunny with him. He sleeps with it, carts it around habitually. We’ve got rangers on the search, McMahon and Matt are out there,” he added, referring to the sheriff and a young deputy.

“McMahon cleared me to call in your unit, and assigned me to base.”

“We’ll set up and get started. I’d like to interview the parents now, if that’s good for you.”

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