Read CHRISTMAS AT THE CARDWELL RANCH Online

Authors: B.J. DANIELS

Tags: #ROMANCE - - SUSPENSE

CHRISTMAS AT THE CARDWELL RANCH (19 page)

“And where does Cory stay?”

“He has a small apartment built onto the back of the carriage house, but he’d never do anything to hurt Sam or Daniella, and he thinks of Macy as a little sister. He loves them as much as I do.”

“Who else works here?”

How she wished he’d just give her a hint of a smile, a tiny indication that he understood the panic that seared through her soul, that the fabric of her fragile world had come undone and she felt utterly lost.

She frowned and focused on his question. “The housekeeper is Pamela Winters. She lives in an apartment in town and only works two or three days a week, depending on the guest load. Then there’s John Jeffries. He’s the gardener and lives in a cottage down by the pond. John’s the only person who works here full-time besides me and Cory.”

“What about other part-time workers?”

She was aware of agents Barkin and Revannaugh returning to the kitchen, where she knew they’d be looking for further evidence to substantiate the possibility of foul play.

“Daniella does most of the cooking for the guests, but she occasionally has Marion Wells come in to take over the job for her. When we’re really busy, Valerie King comes in to help with the cleaning. But none of these people would have any reason to do anything bad to Sam and Daniella. We all love them, and Macy is the smartest, cutest little girl on the face of the earth.”

A sob caught in her throat and she quickly choked it down. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time sitting here and questioning me. You should be out there someplace looking for them,” she said passionately.

His blue eyes stared at her dispassionately, and she decided at that moment that she didn’t particularly like Special Agent Gabriel Blankenship. “I assume you live here on the premises. Where is your room?”

“Just off the kitchen.” She caught her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

He raised a dark eyebrow. “And when was the last time you heard or saw the family?”

“Last night around eight. They went upstairs and I went into my rooms.”

“I’d like to see your rooms.” He stood and looked at her expectantly.

She felt as if he viewed her as a suspect, and she didn’t like the feeling. She stood, her feet leaden as she thought about going through the kitchen to get to her rooms, the kitchen where she knew something bad had happened to people she loved.

She was acutely aware of him following behind her as she passed through the kitchen, where the two agents were fingerprinting the back door. They nodded to her as she went to the door that led to the suite of small rooms she had called home for almost two years. There was a sitting room, a bathroom and two small bedrooms, one where she slept, and one that she and Daniella had turned into a storage room.

The sitting room was relatively plain—a sofa, a rocking chair and a television. There were no knickknacks or trinkets to mark the space as hers. She’d traveled light through life, with her brother the only thing of importance to her.

Gabriel stepped into the room, and it instantly seemed to shrink in size. She became aware of his scent, a faint but pleasant woodsy cologne.

His blue eyes narrowed and a frown furrowed his brow as he took in the immediate surroundings. He glanced into the storage room and then stood in her bedroom doorway, his back a broad mountain in front of her.

Thank goodness there were no silk panties sneaking over the top of an open drawer, no lacy bra hanging from a doorknob. Marlena was definitely grateful at the moment that she was a neat freak.

He whirled around to gaze at her speculatively. “You were asleep right here, and you didn’t hear anything in the kitchen that caused you concern last night?” His deep voice was rife with disbelief.

“I get up at the crack of dawn, work hard during the day and I sleep hard at night. I’ve always been a deep, heavy sleeper, and unless somebody screamed, I probably wouldn’t have awakened.” She raised her chin a notch.

“So you don’t think anyone screamed.”

She hesitated a moment and then shook her head. “I can’t be positive, but I’m relatively sure that a scream would have pulled me from my sleep.”

He held her gaze, and she fought the impulse to squirm. It was as if his piercing blue eyes attempted to crawl inside her head, look into her soul, and she realized at that moment that she was his number-one suspect in whatever had happened to the family she loved.

Copyright © 2013 by Carla Bracale

ISBN-13: 9781460321645

CHRISTMAS AT CARDWELL RANCH

Copyright © 2013 by Barbara Heinlein

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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