Read Ransom Online

Authors: Terri Reed

Ransom

“WE HAVE YOUR SISTER.”

Liz Cantrell is terrified when she receives a call from a man holding her newlywed sister captive—and she's convinced her sketchy brother-in-law's involved. Willing to pay any price for her sister's freedom, Liz flies to Niagara Falls with the ransom: an uncut diamond necklace worth millions. But the moment she lands, a handsome, world-weary Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent takes her into custody. Blake Fallon's determined to catch a ruthless diamond smuggler—and the pretty antiques dealer trying to save her sister could be just the break his case needs. But as they team up to rescue Liz's sister and trap the criminal mastermind, a desperate standoff will threaten everything they hold precious—including their lives.

Northern Border Patrol: Keeping the US-Canada border safe.

“I will do everything in my power to keep you safe and get your sister back safely,” Blake answered.

Liz wanted to believe him. But her natural inclination to keep people at arm's length fought needing to depend on him. But what choice did she have?

It was either go along with his plan or go to jail, which would be a death knell for her sister. Looked like she had only one option.

“Fine.” She clenched her jaw. “I'll do it your way.”

“Good. You'll have to follow my instructions to the letter if we are to succeed.”

Of course he'd say that. He struck her as a man who liked to be in control, to call the shots. “I'll do whatever I have to do to protect my sister.”

A wave of fatigue crashed through Liz. Her shoulders drooped. She glanced at her watch. It was after midnight. She hadn't eaten since the midmorning snack on the plane. She needed to find a hotel, but mostly she wanted to get away from this man. “Can I go now?”

Blake rose and picked up the box, tucking the necklace back inside. “I want you where we can protect you.”

Terri Reed
's romance and romantic suspense novels have appeared on
Publishers Weekly
top twenty-five and Nielsen BookScan's top one hundred lists and have been featured in
USA TODAY
,
Christian Fiction Magazine
and
RT Book Reviews
. Her books have finaled in the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award contest, the National Reader's Choice Award contest and three times in the American Christian Fiction Writers' Carol Award contest. Contact Terri at
terrireed.com
or PO Box 19555, Portland, OR 97224.

Books by Terri Reed

Love Inspired Suspense

Northern Border Patrol

Danger at the Border
Joint Investigation
Murder Under the Mistletoe
Ransom

Capitol K-9 Unit

Duty Bound Guardian

Protection Specialists

The Innocent Witness
The Secret Heiress
The Doctor's Defender
The Cowboy Target

The McClains

Double Deception
Double Jeopardy
Double Cross
Double Threat Christmas

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
.

RANSOM

Terri Reed

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.

—Jeremiah
29:11

To my family for always believing in me.

ONE

A
crash from her sister's bedroom brought Liz Cantrell bolt upright on the couch. She was alone in the apartment she shared with her sister and had been seated with her feet tucked beneath her, trying hard to be interested in the movie on the television with no success. She muted the sound and listened.

A floorboard creaked.

No way was that from the blustery January wind outside her second-story apartment.

Someone was definitely in Jillian's room.

Alarm flooded Liz's veins.

“Please, Lord,” she whispered as she fumbled to grab her phone from her sweatpants' pocket.

A thud and then a man's deep growl jolted her into action.

No time to call for help. She had to get out of there. Fast. She jumped to her feet and hurried to open the apartment door. The hinge squeaked as loud as a shotgun blast.

Thunder rumbled through the apartment.

Not thunder, but feet. A tall figure, wearing a plastic masquerade mask like those worn at Mardi Gras time and dressed all in black, rushed out of Jillian's room. He had Jillian's big burl-wood jewelry box—thankfully not their mother's special jewelry box—in his gloved hands, spilling the contents of Jillian's costume jewelry on the floor as he ran toward Liz.

Adrenaline fueled her fear. She whirled away and ran for the stairs leading to her family's antique shop, her slippers snagging on the old carpet. The walls of the stairwell seemed to close in on her. She hated dark, confined spaces.

She pushed through her anxiety to scuttle down the stairs as fast as she could. The man came after her, breathing down her neck like a monster from a horror flick, adding to the fear tightening her chest and constricting her throat.

Before she reached the bottom of the staircase, the burglar grabbed a handful of her hair. With a painful jerk, he brought her to a halt and pushed her face-first against the stairwell wall. Pain exploded in her cheek and radiated through her head. Would he kill her? She squeezed her eyes tight, tensing her body in preparation to fight back and sent up an urgent prayer.
God, help me!
Help me, please.

“Where's the necklace?” her attacker growled in her ear. His hot, stale breath made her gag.

“What?” Liz struggled to process what was happening. Why had this man broken into her home? What was he talking about? “What necklace?”

“Come on, Jillian, Travis bragged to me he'd lifted it from Santini's shipment to give to you. Since Travis is so stupid to not keep his mouth shut, he doesn't deserve it. And neither does Santini, the pig.” He pressed his weight into her, his knee jamming into her thigh, his elbow crammed into her back at the tender spot below her ribs. “Give it to me or I'll kill you!”

His words beat into her, almost paralyzing her with terror. He thought she was Jillian. What would the man do when he realized she wasn't Jillian but rather her sister? Kill her, then go after Jillian? She couldn't let that happen. She had to protect her little sister.

Stark terror spurred her to action. She kicked her heel back hard and connected with his shin, eliciting a grunt. She followed with a backward elbow jab to his sternum just as her godfather, the town sheriff, had taught her when she was in high school.

The assailant's hold loosened. She grasped her hair and yanked the clump free from his hand, ignoring the biting pain of strands being ripped from her head. She fled down the remaining stairs into the dark store. He chased after her.

The street lamp outside provided enough light for her to navigate through the antiques filling every square space of the shop her father had bequeathed to her and her sister.

She knocked over a short bookcase filled with rare first editions, hoping to slow her attacker for fear he'd catch her before she could escape.

She made it to the front door and flipped the latch. The door unlocked with a click that was drowned out by her shallow breathing. Opening the door would trigger the silent alarm and send the authorities. With a vicious push, she burst out of the store into the frigid night air, nearly bowling over an older couple walking a big Rottweiler. The dog strained against his leash and barked.

“Help me, please!” She grasped at the older man's arm.

While the couple stood there, mouths agape, she caught a glimpse of the masked man as he barreled out the door onto the sidewalk. He paused for a fraction of a second, his gaze landing on the Rottweiler. He backed up as his gaze jumped to Liz and the elderly couple. With an audible rumble of frustration, he bolted in the opposite direction and disappeared down the darkened street.

A whoosh of relief gushed through her, followed closely by an invading sense of violation. The man had broken into her home and assaulted her. Why was he searching for the mysterious necklace? Neither she nor her sister owned anything of value. He'd said Travis had lifted it—stolen, he meant. Liz had never thought much of Travis from the moment Jillian had brought him home to meet her.

“Oh, my,” the gray-haired elderly woman exclaimed. “We should call the police.”

The older man patted his pockets. “I don't have my phone with me.”

“I do,” Liz said just as the jangle of her cell phone in her sweatpants' pocket startled her. With shaky hands, she fished the device out and glanced at the caller ID.

Jillian.

Liz's heart jumped. An icy rush of dread washed over her. After the harrowing experience of the break-in, Liz's imagination took flight with all sorts of horrific scenarios.

She pressed the answer button. “Jillian?”

“Lizzie, I need you to do something for me.” Jillian's voice came over the line with a definite quiver.

Every nerve ending in Liz's body alerted, ready to do whatever was needed to help her baby sister. “Are you okay?”

“I need you to bring me Mom's jewelry box. It's tucked into the bottom drawer of my dresser.”

“What's going on, Jillian? Some man just broke in—”

“Lizzie, listen to me. I need you to do this.” Jillian's sharp tone was so out of character. Pleading, wheedling and coaxing was more her style. Something was definitely wrong.

“Jillian, Travis is mixed—”

Jillian's yelp cut Liz off. The sound of a scuffle on the other end of the line terrified her.

“Jillian!”

“Listen up,” a deep male voice said into Liz's ear, sending a shiver of fear down her spine. “If you ever want to see your sister again, alive, you'll bring the necklace to Fort George by noon Monday. Come alone. No police, or your sister and her no-good husband are dead.”

Panic revved in her blood. “Who is this? What have you done to my sister?”

The click of the call disconnecting slammed into Liz. Her mind raced. Her first instinct was to dial 911. To seek help from the authorities. Sheriff Ward had always counseled them to come to him if they were ever in trouble. This certainly counted as trouble.

No police
, the man had said.

Jillian's life was in danger. Jillian needed Liz to act on the promise Liz had made to their father on his deathbed.

Watch over your little sister, Lizzie, girl,
he'd said.
You're the level-headed one. She's going to need you.

Now more than ever Jillian needed Liz.

Liz dialed Jillian's phone, but it went straight to voice mail. What did that mean? Fear clawed up her throat.

She called the hotel where Jillian and Travis were staying and had the desk clerk ring the honeymoon couple's room, but there was no answer. Liz forced down her panic, knowing if ever there was a time to be calm and clearheaded, it was now.

She refused to think the worst. Not yet anyway. She had a deadline to make. Her sister's life depended on it.

* * *

Liz flexed her fingers on the armrests of her seat as the plane dipped with turbulence as it made its approach to her destination. She didn't like flying, in fact, didn't enjoy leaving the island at all. She'd gone off to college at her father's urging, only going as far as Charleston. And that had seemed miles away from the serene island home that Liz loved. She'd returned home for good two years later when Dad had had his heart attack.

But for her sister's sake, Liz was heading north to bring the ransom to free her sister.

Last night, after convincing the sheriff she was okay, she'd spent the rest of the night locked in the downstairs office at the back of the store. She hadn't wanted to take a chance on the intruder returning to find her even though the sheriff had promised a car would patrol the neighborhood.

She'd felt so guilty not confiding to him that Jillian had been kidnapped. But she couldn't risk her sister's life.

Staring out the oval plane window, she could see the white world outside as the plane descended toward the runway in Buffalo, New York. She couldn't appreciate the snowy scenic view with her mind racing ahead with all that she needed to do.

Anxiousness made her antsy as she filed out of the plane and up the jet bridge along with everyone else. The frigid air seeping in from outside made her glad she'd worn her thick fleece-lined down jacket. Still, the chilly air finding its way through the collar of her coat sent a shudder through her. This was a different kind of cold than she was used to. It was biting, like the air had teeth and wanted to sink into her all the way to the bone.

As she exited the jet bridge into the welcome warmth of the terminal, two men stepped into her path. She barely glanced at them before sidestepping, but they followed her move and blocked her exit.

Irritated by the rude behavior, she ground out, “Excuse me.”

“Elizabeth Cantrell?”

The deep, smooth voice that hinted at an American Southern drawl stopped her in her tracks. Her attention snapped to the men. How did they know her name?

Both men were tall, broad-shouldered and handsome, yet very different. One had jet-black hair and looked to be of Native American descent. His warm brown eyes regarded her with curiosity. He was dressed in jeans, a warm winter jacket and boots still dusted with snow.

However, the other man's obsidian gaze wasn't warm or curious. He stared at her with such accusation that she took a step back. He wore a wool trench coat buttoned all the way up to the collar and black slacks and black shoes that didn't look nearly warm enough for the weather. His dark brown hair was short and tousled, as if he'd run his fingers through the strands several times. If she weren't so freaked out, she'd have found him handsome, but at the moment all she felt was annoyed and scared and intimidated. A combination that made her body tense.

“I'm Liz Cantrell. What do you want?” She hated that her voice trembled. Were these men sent from the man who had her sister? But how would the man know which plane she was on? A creeping sensation skated over her neck. She was being watched?

The man with curious eyes said softly, “Canada Border Services, ma'am.”

What? A panicked flutter started low in her tummy.

“US federal agent,” the other said in a low tone. “Come with us.”

Neither man wore any identifying logos. Caution told her not to trust them. Wariness crept into her voice. “How do I know you're telling me the truth?”

The federal agent pushed aside his coat just far enough to reveal his gold shield. Then he slid his coat back into place.

A fresh wave of panic washed over her. These men were law enforcement. She couldn't go with them. To do so would jeopardize her sister's life. The man on the phone had told her not to involve the police or he'd kill Jillian and Travis.

She searched for an exit but realized the men had boxed her in. Even if she attempted to run, she wouldn't get very far and would only draw attention to herself. To them. What did they want with her? “Why? I haven't done anything wrong.”

The two men shared a glance, then the federal agent stepped to her side and gripped her by the elbow. His big hand was firm but gentle. His woodsy scent surrounded her in such contrast to his cold and accusing demeanor.

“This way, Miss Cantrell,” the CBS officer said.

Despite not wanting to attract attention, every instinct in her screamed she shouldn't acquiesce. The man on the phone had told her no police. But these men couldn't know that. And if they knew she had been on this flight, then that meant the kidnapper could also have eyes on her.

“Please, you have to let me go.” She dug in her heels but couldn't keep the two men from surreptitiously forcing her to move forward.

“Wait.” Her voice rose. She winced. It wouldn't do to show her panic. She collected herself and continued in a hiss, “Where are you taking me?”

They ignored her question and led her away from curious gazes and through a door discreetly situated behind a kiosk. They went down a long hallway. Terror gripped her. Where were they taking her? What would they do with her? To her? What would happen to Jillian? She sent up a silent plea to God for help.

She struggled to free herself but her captors wouldn't let go. The long corridor seemed endless. The tight wall too close. Another door was pushed open, and she was thrust inside a small room that held a metal table and two chairs on either side. High in the corner a red light blinked on a camera. She was in an interrogation room, one like she'd seen on countless television shows.

A ripple of anxiety coursed through her veins, making her blood turn to ice. Why were they detaining her? How long would this take? What if the man holding her sister hostage found out? What if they took the ransom?

“We'll be right with you,” the CBS officer said before shutting the door and locking her inside.

The faint smell of antibacterial cleaner burned her nostrils. She hated to contemplate the many germs that had contaminated the room. It wasn't that she was a germophobe per se. But she couldn't afford to catch a sickness now. Not when her sister's life was in jeopardy.

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