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Authors: Heather Woodhaven

Code of Silence

BOOK: Code of Silence
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RUNNING OUT OF TIME

Reeling from the news of her late mother's secret life in the Mafia, Gabriella Radcliffe has twenty-four hours to return incriminating evidence her mother stole from them. If she fails, her newfound “family” will kill her aunt—but Gabriella has no idea what the evidence is or where to find it. When her old friend Luke McGuire stumbles on a rogue Mafia member threatening Gabriella, he's shot as they flee from the thug. Now with the clock ticking, Gabriella and Luke are trapped inside her family ranch, following her mother's clues to the items that can free them. But as they fight to save Gabriella's only surviving family member, somebody else wants to find the evidence first…and he's willing to kill for it.

“Did someone hurt you?”

Gabriella looked forward and focused on the trees swaying in the breeze, but it only served to remind her of the ticking clock. Twenty-four hours left until they killed her great-aunt, and she had no idea where to begin.

Who could she call? The police? The FBI? Absolutely not.

She moved to get out of the car. Luke stood to make room for her. He held out a hand to help her.

Normally, she'd wave it away, but as heavy as her bones felt she accepted. The strength in his grip as he gently pulled her to standing bolstered her determination. She would not let those men hurt her great-aunt Freddie—the woman had been like a second mother to her.

“Luke, it's not a good time to look at the property, after all. I'll call you to reschedule?”

Luke didn't flinch, and his hand didn't move from her wrist. “This isn't business. I'm here as a friend. My receptionist said you were arguing with that man before you left, and the black sedan followed you. What happened?”

Heather Woodhaven
earned her pilot's license, rode a hot air balloon over the safari lands of Kenya, parasailed over Caribbean seas, lived through an accidental detour onto a black diamond ski trail in Aspen and snorkeled among stingrays before becoming a mother of three and wife of one. She channels her love for adventure into writing characters who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

Books by Heather Woodhaven

Love Inspired Suspense

Calculated Risk
Surviving the Storm
Code of Silence

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CODE OF
SILENCE

Heather Woodhaven

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

—
Philippians
4:8

To my husband, my critique group and to my editor, Emily Rodmell. Thank you for not being silent with your encouragement and ideas. You make these stories shine. And chocolate, you deserve some credit, too.

ONE

T
he shadow of a car darkened the patch of asphalt in front of her. Gabriella's neck tingled, and she held her breath. Everywhere she went, a black sedan crossed her path, as if following her.

Grief continued playing tricks on her mind.

The first few times she'd spotted the boxy-shaped vehicle, she'd thought she'd seen a hearse. She blinked. The car didn't so much as slow down as it passed by the parking lot and turned the corner, proving her thoughts to be ludicrous once again. No car—and definitely no hearse—was following her.

Gabriella pressed the papers she'd gathered against her chest and locked her car door. Instead of enjoying her summer break from teaching math at a junior high school, she needed to implore Luke McGuire for help. His voice had sounded as kind and smooth as ever on the phone when she'd scheduled the appointment, but she hadn't seen him since college, when their fiancés dumped both of them for each other. And a lot could change in eight years.

Gabriella ran her left palm against the side of her head in case any errant hairs had escaped the barrette. As she approached the glass doors, she hoped the maroon peasant blouse, tan capris and navy flats looked professional enough for a visit to the real estate development office. She pulled the handle.

Luke McGuire stood in the lobby, addressing his receptionist. He wore a gray suit, white shirt and an azure tie that matched his blue eyes. She froze as they both turned toward her.

Luke's face fell. “Gabriella.”

She let the door close behind her, and the air-conditioning sent an involuntary shiver up her spine. His expression confirmed her suspicions—seeing her just reminded him of the pain they'd experienced.

He held out a hand, and as she reached for it, she glanced at the hand by his side—no ring. Maybe he still hadn't gotten over his fiancée?

His brows furrowed. “I'm sorry to hear about your mom. I think I met her and your aunt once, at a parents' weekend. I remember because you two almost looked like—”

“Twins,” she finished for him. Each time she looked in the mirror, the reminder of her loss hit her in the gut. Her throat fought against letting her words out. “She and my great-aunt came to every single one of those.”

Luke turned and waved a hand toward the back. “Why don't we talk in my office?” He shortened his stride until she caught up. “Congratulations on the nonprofit, by the way. I saw you on the news last week when they announced their charity of the month.”

Her shoulders relaxed at the change of subject, and she couldn't help but smile that Luke knew about the foundation she'd set up a few years back to help tutor struggling kids. “Oh. The grant took me by surprise. I didn't know anything about it until we showed up on the news.”

She scrunched her nose. “I think they pulled my picture from the school staff website.” Gabriella stiffened. What if Luke thought she was fishing for compliments? She rushed on. “Financially it's not a big grant, but the national media exposure is priceless. I'd be ecstatic, but—”

He nodded. “Of course. You're going through a lot right now.”

Framed pictures of subdivision developments filled with cookie-cutter houses hung on the office walls. Her chest ached. Could she really go through with this?

As soon as he sat in his chair, she splayed the papers she'd brought with her across his desk. “I know you agreed to meet with me as a courtesy, but I really think the land has potential for one of the subdivisions you keep making.” She hated the tremble in her voice but worried if she stopped she'd break down. “I brought a copy of the property map and printed out the county assessment of—”

“I'm sorry, Gabriella. I actually have all that information already. I gathered it after you called.” Luke clasped his hands together. “I know it's getting late, but if you have time, I need a look at the property in person before we can discuss potential scenarios. I could follow you out there now.”

“Wow. That's fast. It's good. It's what I need. Just fast.” She nodded and continued nodding, processing his words. “I have time to show you around right now.”

Luke clapped his hands together and jumped from his chair. “Perfect. I just need a moment to gather my camera and some paperwork. I'll be right behind you.”

Gabriella took the cue and headed straight for the door. Her embarrassment at babbling coupled with his kindness would be her undoing. Her eyes burned with held-back tears. The moment she opened the door, heat slapped her in the face.

She squinted against the intense sunshine as a black sedan drove past the office. Was that really a different one than she'd seen moments before? Was she going insane? It, too, had darkened windows.

If it'd been a Subaru Outback, she would've had an easier time believing the coincidence. Many Idaho residents depended on the all-wheel drive, practically a requirement to living in Idaho. But a black sedan? She had no proof it was following her, though. The next time she spotted it, she'd make an effort to get its license plate number so she'd know for sure.

A man in a silver suit and navy dress shirt rounded the corner of the office building, smiling. She grinned in response, slightly amused at his greased-back hair. She'd only seen hair like that on New York models and wondered if he worked as a partner or employee for Luke. She stepped off the sidewalk and clicked the fob to unlock her car as the man passed.

She opened the car door. As it swung open, the man stepped next to her passenger door and wrenched it open. She clutched her purse. “Excuse me. What are you—”

He pulled his suit jacket back, revealing a gun holstered to his side. “Get in, Gabriella.”

Gabriella's heart slammed into overdrive, and yet, she couldn't move. What did they say about people with guns? Never get in the car? Or, get in the car but drive into a building? She couldn't blink. Her vision focused on the gun. And how did he know her name?

“Don't be stupid. Look behind you.”

Gabriella moved her chin ever so slightly. There was no way she was turning her back to the gunman. She peeked over her shoulder. The source of her insanity—the black sedan—pulled into the parking lot.

“Now see? It's not just me. And the guys in there aren't as nice.” He stared at her with such intensity that she had to look away. “You wouldn't want other people getting hurt, would you?” he asked. “Not when you could be saving your great-aunt.”

Despite the heat, everything turned cold. Gabriella's skin chilled. “What about her?”

Another man in a suit stepped out of the back of the black sedan and approached. He smiled, a grin that made her skin crawl. He nodded at the other man and opened the rear door of her car. “If I were you, I'd do everything he tells you. I'm not as patient.”

“What'd I tell you?” the first gunman said. The men both laughed, sharing their own sick joke.

Gabriella's stomach twisted. She should've followed her great-aunt's advice and carried a gun or a brick in her purse. Even if she had, though, it'd be no match for the two men. And if they were telling the truth about Aunt Freddie being in danger, she couldn't risk it.

The second man loosened his suit jacket, and she spotted his gun, as well. She tightened her fists. “Is my aunt in that sedan? What'd you do with her?”

The man across from her turned and looked toward Luke's office. The sun bounced off the windows, so she couldn't see inside.
Please let Luke see something is wrong.

“Do you want to see her alive again?” the first gunman asked, his voice thick with a familiar accent she couldn't place.

She opened her mouth, her breath so ragged she wasn't sure she could answer if she tried. Aunt Freddie was her only living relative. It'd been hard enough to put her in assisted living last week—so hard Gabriella spent the past few nights sleeping on the couch at her new villa so Aunt Freddie wouldn't be lonely.

I can't lose her, too.
Her gut dropped. The sedan following her the past few days...had she led them right to her aunt?

He smirked. “Get in and drive.”

* * *

Luke hit the side of the printer, frustrated after two jams and irritated the temporary receptionist hadn't already finished the job. He didn't begrudge Deb her maternity leave, but he also selfishly prayed she didn't change her mind about coming back in six weeks. His sanity depended on it.

The motor whirred as the printer finally spit out his prize. He grabbed the paper, shoved it haphazardly into the leather satchel and strode for the door.

He hated keeping Gabriella waiting, especially since he had suggested the last-minute property tour. And since it was almost five o'clock already, he harbored hope she'd agree to have dinner afterward to catch up.

His mind replayed seeing her walk through his office door. She radiated a mixture of gentleness and beauty. And it made him angry with himself that he hadn't kept in touch. He'd meant to.

When he first settled on the Treasure Valley to start his business, his parents had challenged his sanity. But the economy was booming, and it turned out to be a smart move financially. If he was honest with himself, in the back of his mind he'd assumed Gabriella would've settled in the area, too. Instead, she accepted a job in a small town in Eastern Oregon but spent summers in the valley. He knew she stayed with her family and worked with her foundation director anytime she had a break from teaching. Yet he'd never reached out, though he'd meant to before now.

Even now his heart sped up at the thought of her, but he knew why he procrastinated. He'd put himself out there once before—albeit almost a decade ago—and been burned. He wanted to diminish the risk of repeating the scenario.

Gabriella had seemed pleased about the grant and the media exposure. So pleased, he'd been tempted to let her know he owned the responsibility for making it happen. But he took the Bible passage seriously that exhorted believers to give in secret.

Luke turned to the receptionist. “As soon as you're done with that file, you're free to go. You'll be paid for the full day. The door is set to lock behind you.” He pressed the glass door open as he threw on his designer shades, a smile plastering his face. He loved summer. He stepped out to an empty parking lot.

He always parked behind the office building along with his employees. The spaces in front were reserved for clients. He grabbed the glass door before it fully closed. “Karen?”

“Yes?”

“Did you see where my client went?”

“Oh. Yeah.” She picked at a piece of fuzz attached to her blouse. “She argued with some guy for a second, but then when she saw her friends coming, too, they like must have worked it out, 'cause they drove off together.”

Luke rubbed the throbbing spot above his brow. “Her friends?” It didn't make sense. Gabriella was too considerate not to let him know she'd changed her plans. At least the girl he once knew would've been. Maybe she'd changed.

“Yeah, well I think so,” Karen muttered. “Two of them got in her car and the others followed them when they left.”

Luke's shoulders sagged. An impromptu reunion? He shook his head. It didn't add up. “Did she say anything when she left? Did she look upset?”

Karen lifted an eyebrow. “Well, yeah. Didn't you say her mom just died?”

Luke blew out a long breath. He spun on his heel and headed for his truck. Maybe Gabriella had changed her mind about putting the property up for sale, but if that proved to be the case, he still wanted to show her how serious he was about being her friend. And who was the guy she argued and left with? The back of his neck tensed.

People changed over the years, sure, but Gabriella's thoughtful nature defined her. Driving off without telling anyone didn't ring true.

He entered Gabriella's phone number and started his full-size Dodge Ram while it rang.

Four rings later it transferred to voice mail. Luke frowned. Something didn't sit well. He didn't want to be overly pushy, but he had also let Gabriella go once instead of being a true friend. He refused to make the same mistake twice. He shifted the truck into Drive and headed for Radcliffe Ranch.

BOOK: Code of Silence
13.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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