Protecting Her Secret Son(6)

By: Regan Black



“I followed you to help you,” he said, a lick of impatience in his voice. “You need to report this.”

“If I do and they hurt my baby, it will be my fault. I can’t live with that.”

“What’s really going on?”

“I don’t know much more than you do.” She didn’t realize she was crying again, or that Daniel had her wrapped in his arms, until the fabric under her cheek was damp.

“Will you trust me?” he asked when she quieted.

It seems she already did. She eased back from his solid warmth and tried to regain some distance and some dignity, a lost cause at this point. “I won’t speak with the police. Not yet, not after those threats.”

“How do you feel about former police?”

She shook her head. “Daniel—”

“Your place is nearby, right?” He looked toward the corner, squinting at the street signs.

“Around the corner,” she answered, caught off guard by the shift in topic. She supposed he knew her address from her personnel file.

“We’ll drop off your car and then you’re coming with me.”

“You need to get back to the job site.” She should go back as well, there wasn’t anything she could do other than wait for the kidnappers to make a demand she could work with.

“Ed’s got it under control.”

She groaned, thinking of her immediate supervisor and the project manager on the house they were finishing up. A little older, Ed Scanlon was patient and easygoing most of the time. Over the past few years, she’d come to think of him as the older brother she’d never had. “I need to call him, let him know I won’t be back.” She pushed a hand through her hair. “What am I going to tell him?” He doted on Aiden. If she told him the truth, he’d be relentless about pressuring her to call the cops. Daniel posed plenty of opposition without Ed chiming in.

“I handled it,” Daniel said. “I outrank him, remember?”

Ed was a friend as well and she didn’t want to hurt him. “Handled it how?” She gaped at her boss. “You didn’t tell him the truth.”

“No, I didn’t. And the guy who helped me with the repairs got a story about an attempted home invasion. Come on now.”

“I’m not talking to the police.”

“Trust me, I got that part loud and clear.” He reached around her and opened her car door. “First, your place. Lead the way.”

She fought back tears as she drove, wishing the phone would ring. Threats or demands, she didn’t care, as long as whoever held Aiden gave her another glimpse of her son, alive.

“I’ll find you, baby,” she vowed to the empty booster seat in the back. “You’ll be home soon.” She put all her thoughts toward how they would celebrate his homecoming and almost succeeded in blotting out the worst-case scenarios.

* * *

Daniel followed her to a tidy little rental in a duplex on another quiet street in the established, family neighborhood. Either she or the landlord took good care of it from what he could see out here.

His money was on her. Shannon’s work ethic and positive attitude inspired and spurred on the others. No surprise. His father, as the head of Jennings Construction, made a habit of hiring quality people and doing everything possible to keep them happy on the job. Fewer employee turnovers meant better profits. Having seen her on various job sites, he knew how much the crews liked her and her son.

He’d known her address and phone number from the employment records, noticed she’d been in the area for almost five years and at this address for just about four. No mention of a spouse in her file, current or ex. He knew from the chatter around the job sites that she didn’t date a lot, either.

Jennings was her only employer after her son had been born and her two local references came from a little restaurant where she’d been a waitress and the owner of a tile store where she’d been a showroom assistant. Shannon had juggled the two jobs through most of her pregnancy.

Daniel felt like a stalker for being able to pull all of that right out of his head. He’d never reviewed employee records for personal reasons before Shannon Nolan. After today, he never would again. If he wanted a date, he was better off using one of the apps the guys at the firehouse talked about.

Except something about her and her son had appealed to him from the first time he’d spotted her painting the intricate spindles of a porch rail on an exterior remodel project.

Late spring, he recalled, a fresh and clear afternoon. Her painting hand, those long fingers tipped with short unpainted nails, had been steady as she rocked the baby seat gently with her toe in time to the music Ed had pumping from the radio around front. The sunshine had highlighted the many shades of her fair hair. She’d worn it long then, had cut it some time ago, leaving a fringe of bangs that framed her wide brown eyes in a fine-boned face.

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