Read Christmas in Texas Online

Authors: Tina Leonard,Rebecca Winters

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

Christmas in Texas (11 page)

The accident victim’s eyes were closed. Flynn could see the
poor father had a goose egg on his temple and cuts on his hands and arms, but
the paramedics had already started an IV and it appeared he would make it. The
two of them had cheated death. His wife would have reason to celebrate this
Christmas.

Flynn saw Sheriff Bates, who signaled him over to the desk.
“Have you heard the latest?”

“What?”

“A woman was found slumped in the snow outside a pump at
Barton’s Convenience Mart on Pine Street earlier this evening named Andrea
Sinclair. A motorist saw her and called 911. When they brought her in, she was
screaming in terror that her husband had stolen her baby. She was afraid she’d
never see him again.”

Husband?
This was a
domestic-violence dispute? Flynn threw his head back in frustration. The number
one rule in this business. Never assume anything.

“As usual, it took one of our Texas Rangers to bring about a
miracle this fast.” The sheriff kept talking. “Heard you solved the case up in
Van Horn. Congratulations. You do great work, Flynn.”

“I happened to be passing at the right moment.” The older man’s
remarks were gratifying, but Flynn’s mind was on the tragedy of the situation.
“I assumed he was the father.”

“It’s a shame these things happen, and especially around the
holidays. The cell phone found in the snow has water damage and isn’t working.
We presume it’s his, since the woman’s purse, also lying by the pump, had a cell
phone. Except for two hundred dollars cash in his back pocket, he had no ID on
him.”

“That figures,” Flynn muttered in quiet rage. When parents
kidnapped their own children, they never thought about the trauma they
caused.

“The dispatcher said he was glad he hadn’t been in your shoes.
He could hear the hysterics.”

“It tore me up. I pray he’s not going to suffer any residual
problems.”

“I doubt it. You and I know babies are tough.”

Flynn nodded. He’d seen proof of it tonight. The scene was one
he’d never forget. “What else do you know so far?”

“Her ID indicates she’s from Carlsbad, New Mexico. She’s
twenty-seven. The car is registered there, too. It was bought today from the
Haney dealership. One of the officers found a calendar from there in the
snow.”

His brows lifted. “Her flight came to a quick end. I need to
talk to her.” The woman could be on the level. Then again, she might be involved
in something ugly—like kidnapping someone else’s baby—and everything had gone
wrong.

“Go ahead, but she was hysterical and the doctor had to sedate
her. When she was attacked, the wind was knocked out of her, but there were no
injuries. She was wearing a wig. The officers assume it was a disguise—not
because of chemo treatments. After the baby is checked out in the nursery, he’ll
be reunited with his mom. That ought to bring her out of her shock enough to
tell you what happened.”

He patted Flynn’s shoulder. “Crossing state lines means you’ve
got a kidnapping case to solve. I talked to Nyall. Your boss is sorry about
spoiling your Christmas vacation.”

Flynn didn’t mind. “After I check in with him, I’ll go look in
on her and see if she’s ready to answer any questions.” He now had another
choice besides getting blotto on Jack Daniel’s. At least for tonight.

Chapter Two

Andrea moved her head back and forth as she became more
aware of her surroundings. She’d lost all track of time and could hear people
speaking in quiet voices. That excruciating pain was back since the drug they’d
given her had worn off. She started to sob. “My baby—has anyone found my
baby?”

“We have, Mrs. Sinclair.”

She didn’t recognize the deep male voice, but those words
filled her whole being with unspeakable joy. “Is he all right?”

“He’s right here safe and sound. See for yourself.”

Andrea felt the hospital bed being raised. The next sight she
saw was an unfamiliar man holding her baby, whom he’d just picked up from the
hospital crib. Jack was wrapped in one of the blankets she’d packed in the
diaper bag. The stranger handed her the bundle with infinite care.

“Oh, my baby—” She clutched Jack to her, trying to hold back
the sobs so she wouldn’t frighten him. “My little sweetheart.” She pressed
kisses to his face and hands. “I can’t believe I’ve got you back.” She cuddled
him close, rocking him.

Jack found his favorite place against her neck and burrowed in.
While she smoothed one hand over his little back, she looked up into a pair of
the most beautiful, warm gray eyes she’d ever seen. Through his black lashes
they looked suspiciously bright as the tall, hard-muscled male with dark sable
hair stared down at the two of them. “He’s missed his mommy.”

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“My name’s Flynn Patterson. I’m with the Texas Rangers.”

She’d heard of the Rangers all her life. This one wore a
Western-style shirt and cowboy boots. If anyone fitted the description of one of
those legendary heroes, he did.

“I was the one who happened to come across a car accident
earlier tonight outside Fort Davis and discovered your baby locked in his car
seat. It’s a good thing, too. He survived the rollover without a scratch. All he
wanted was you.”

Tears flowed down her cheeks. “Thank God you found him—” she
cried emotionally. But in the next breath, fear seized her. “What about my
husband? I-Is he in the hospital, too?” Her question came out jerkily.

“Yes. The doctor says he’s suffered a concussion, but he’s
going to make it.”

She felt the blood drain from her face. “I don’t want to see
him. Please don’t let him come near me or the baby. I filed for divorce five
months ago and we’ve been legally separated since then. But he’s been out of
control and has continually ignored the restraining orders against him.”

“Have no fear. He’s under guard on another floor. While Jack is
resting comfortably against you, are you up to answering a few questions for me?
I need your answers for the record.”

“Now that you’ve found my baby, I’m up for anything! Go
ahead.”

Andrea watched him snag a chair from the side of the room with
effortless male grace and sit down next to the bed with his long powerful legs
extended. His wavy hair framed a face with rugged features.

She found him attractive in an unconventional sense. There was
an aura of authority about him that made her feel she could trust him. When he
caught her staring at him, heat filled her cheeks and she kissed Jack’s head to
cover her embarrassment.

“What’s your husband’s name?”

“Jerold Sinclair, but everyone calls him Jerry.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“He’s a pilot for Western Skies Airlines.”

“How old is he?”

“Thirty-four.”

“Does he have family?”

“Yes. His parents and brother live in California, but he’s
estranged from them.”

“Let me have their names and addresses.”

“All I know is he was raised in Fullerton. I don’t have any
other details.”

“I can check that out. Are you employed?”

“Not right now.”

He sat forward. “All right. Now tell me what led up to his
kidnapping your baby. Try to remember as much as you can so you don’t have to go
through this again. I’m recording our conversation through a mini device hooked
to my pocket.”

If he hadn’t told her that, she wouldn’t have had any idea. “A
year and a half ago, I met Jerry while I was working in the programming
department of a local television station in Carlsbad.”

“Which one?”

Andrea told him and gave him the name of her former boss. “I’d
been there since graduating from college five years ago. Jerry and I got married
three months after meeting each other, and last January I found out I was
expecting.”

She shifted Jack to her other shoulder. “I worked up until the
last three months of my pregnancy, when the doctor put me on bed rest. Jerry
didn’t handle that well. He wanted a wife who could play between flights. I
hardly saw him.

“One day I received a call from a man who told me Jerry had
been involved with a flight attendant in Albuquerque since before our marriage
and was still seeing her. He thought I ought to know. I’m sure one of the other
pilots who knew what was going on got someone to call. I didn’t recognize the
voice.

“At first I didn’t want to believe it, but lying there in bed I
started putting two and two together. It explained a lot of things I hadn’t been
able to understand. Jerry had taken no interest in getting ready for the baby.
And then I bought some things for the baby online, but my credit card was
declined for insufficient funds.

“Upon investigation I found out not only was our checking
account overdrawn but he’d used up most of the money from my savings account
accrued over five years of working. I was so shaken—I realized I didn’t know the
man I’d trusted so completely.

“When Jerry got home from his latest flight, I confronted him
about everything. He admitted he had a gambling problem and was in financial
trouble. As for the affair, he didn’t deny it, but said it was over and it
hadn’t meant anything. He made all kinds of promises that he’d recoup the losses
and make it all up to me.

“That’s when I told him our marriage was over and I had filed
for divorce. On the advice of my attorney, I took the little money left in my
savings account and moved to a furnished apartment before the baby was
born.”

“What’s your attorney’s name and phone number?”

“Sheila North, with Bradford and Gonzales.” Andrea gave him the
number. “After the baby came, she arranged visitation through Jerry’s attorney.
While I’ve been waiting for the divorce to be final, Jerry has kept coming over
when it wasn’t his time to see Jack, insisting we needed to talk and get back
together.

“His harassment prompted me to get a restraining order and my
attorney arranged for supervised visitation. That only enraged him. He made
threats over the phone and drove over to my apartment all the time, pounding on
the door in the middle of the night. He came so often, I decided he was
desperate for money.

“Two days ago I had a long talk with my attorney and she said I
needed to disappear. She knew of a safe house for battered women in Alpine,
Texas, where I could get help and find a job. I was so frightened of Jerry at
that point, I told her I would do it, because I’ve had no living family to help
me since my aunt died.

“In order to fool him, I drove my Sentra to the car dealership
yesterday, and traded it in on an older Honda. Then I drove out the back way
wearing a wig I’d purchased, and I left the state.

“It was snowing so hard I decided to stay here overnight. I
stopped for gas first. While I was dealing with the nozzle, I got shoved from
behind and the fall dazed me. The next thing I knew, the car with my baby in it
was gone. I realized immediately it was Jerry—” Her body trembled
uncontrollably. “He’d warned me he would do something drastic to get my
attention.”

“But you didn’t actually see him?”

“No, I didn’t have to. After what he’s put me through, I’ve
feared what he’d do, but I didn’t think even he would put our baby in jeopardy.
Do you imagine he thought I’d give him the little money I had left to pay a
ransom to get Jack back? Obviously all my efforts to hide from him have been in
vain. A kind stranger happened to see me and called the police. They brought me
here. You know the rest.”

He eyed her compassionately. “Do you recall seeing anyone else
at that convenience mart?”

She hugged her baby tighter. “No. There was no one around.
Wait—I do remember that a camper pulled up to get gas at another pump. The storm
was so bad by then, there were hardly any cars out.”

Something flickered in his eyes. “Do you remember the make or
color?”

Andrea bit her lip. “There was too much snow and I really
wasn’t paying attention. It looked like one of those camper trucks. I’m sure it
wasn’t new.”

“That all helps. I’ll alert the police to keep an eye out for
it while they’re on duty. In the meantime I’ll check with the sales person
inside the mart and question the stranger who called 911. Maybe one of them will
be able to shed more light.”

“You think Jerry was driving that camper?” The mere thought
sent a river of ice through her veins.

“It’s possible. If so, he had an accomplice with him, because
there was no sign of the camper when the police arrived to take care of you.
What kind of car does your husband normally drive?”

“A two-year-old black Audi.”

The Ranger got to his feet. “Where’s your cell phone? I’ll
program my number into it in case you need to phone me.”

“It’s right here on the bedside table.” She handed it to
him.

He did it quickly and handed the phone back to her. “Now give
me your number.” He whipped out his phone and programmed her number. “Thank you
for your time, Mrs. Sinclair. I’ll leave you alone with your baby and see you
tomorrow to finish up my investigation. I trust you and Jack will be able to
sleep now. Make it a long one. After your harrowing experience, you both deserve
it.”

If anyone deserved the same, it was the Ranger. Andrea wanted
to call him back, but realized he was probably exhausted so she didn’t say
anything. He’d told her he’d see her tomorrow. She would make sure of it,
because she planned to thank him again for giving her back her baby and her
sanity.

* * *

O
NCE
HE

D
LEFT
Andrea’s room, Flynn went up to
the second-floor nursing station to check with the doctor who’d been taking care
of Jerry Sinclair. “Have you communicated with the man since he was brought
in?”

“No. He’s been in a dazed condition.”

“While in that state, has he called out a name?”

The doctor blinked. “No… Wait, yes—but not a name. He cursed
and said something like ‘I’m screwed.’”

Interesting.

“Let me know as soon as he’s able to talk. I’ll be in the
lounge at the end of the hall.”

No point driving home in the snow. There was nothing to go home
to, and he’d have to be back here by eight to interrogate the patient. Flynn had
slept in hospital lounges before and could do it again. He’d rather be here
anyway if the patient became coherent enough to be questioned sooner than
later.

After the doctor nodded, Flynn walked down the hall reflecting
on their conversation. The first thing an agonized father who loved his child
would have done was call out his child’s name or his wife’s name, even if he’d
been caught in a criminal act. That wasn’t this patient’s initial instinct. It
sent up a red flag.

Mrs. Sinclair had said she hadn’t actually seen her husband.
There was one way to find out if the man who occupied that hospital bed was
indeed Mr. Sinclair. Flynn had a gut feeling he wasn’t, otherwise he would have
carried ID to prove he was the baby’s father and had the right to be with
him.

Tomorrow he’d take some pictures of him with his cell phone and
ask her to look at them for a positive identification.

Her story wasn’t that different from so many domestic-violence
cases, except for one thing. Little Jack Sinclair had gotten to Flynn when the
baby had finally snuggled against his chest. For the first time in two years,
Flynn’s arms hadn’t felt empty.

What a sight it was to see the little boy nestled against his
mommy, so happy and secure. Both were blond and beautiful. When Flynn realized
where his thoughts had wandered, he checked his watch. Ten after three.

He could take his pick of the empty couches in the lounge, and
he stretched out on the longest one. It was still too short. Before he did
anything else, he phoned the number for Sheila North. The menu gave him an
emergency number. He pushed the digits and waited.

A woman who’d obviously been asleep answered. “This is Sheila
North.”

Flynn got right to the point. Within a minute relief washed
over him to learn Andrea Sinclair had told him the truth about her case. For
some reason that made little sense, he hadn’t wanted to suspect her of any
wrongdoing.

After promising to keep in touch with the attorney, he hung up
and set his watch alarm for eight. But he needn’t have bothered, because the
doctor wakened him at seven. “Captain Patterson?”

Flynn sat up, instantly alert.

“I’m going off duty, but wanted you to know the patient is
awake.”

“I appreciate your letting me know. What’s his condition?”

“He’s recovering from a concussion. Barring complications, he
can be released into police custody tomorrow.”

“Have you found out his name?”

“He won’t talk.”

He would when Flynn got through with him. “Thanks for the
information.”

As the doctor walked away, Flynn got to his feet and found a
restroom to freshen up. The mirror told him he looked like hell. He needed a
shower and shave, but that would have to wait.

Wanting a pickup, he bought a cola out of the vending machine
and phoned headquarters. An officer needed to talk to both the person who’d
found Mrs. Sinclair and the person on duty at the convenience mart and get any
information they could to help the case. With that accomplished he headed to the
patient’s room. One of the police officers on duty was seated in a chair
outside. The two nodded.

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