Delta Force Rescue - Elle James

Chapter 1

Briana Hayes hitched up her leather satchel, resting the strap on her shoulder as she walked down the stairwell of the rundown apartment building. The day had been long and depressing. She’d already been to six different homes that day. Two of the parents of small children had threatened her. One child had to be removed and placed with a foster family after being burned repeatedly with a cigarette by the mother’s live-in boyfriend. Some days, Briana hated her job as a Child Welfare Officer for the state of Illinois. Most days, she realized the importance of her work.

Her focus was the safety of children.

Thankfully, the last home had been one in which the mother seemed to be getting herself together for the love of her child. Because of drug abuse, she’d lost her baby girl to the state. After rehab treatment, she’d gotten a job, proved that she could support herself and the baby and regained custody. Briana prayed the woman didn’t fall back into old habits. The child needed a functioning mother to raise her.

The sun had slid down below the tops of the surrounding buildings, casting the streets and alleys into shadow. A chill wind blew dark gray clouds over the sky. The scent of moisture in the air held a promise of rain. Soon.

Briana picked up her pace, hurrying past an alley toward the parking lot where she’d left her small non-descript, four-door sedan. A sobbing sound caught her attention and she slowed. She glanced into the dark alley, a shiver of apprehension running the length of her spine. This part of Chicago wasn’t the safest to be in after sunset. Though she didn’t want to hang around too long, she couldn’t ignore the second sob.

“Hello?” she called out softly.

The sobbing grew more frequent, and a baby’s cry added to the distress.

Despite concern for her own safety, Briana stepped into the alley. “Hey, what’s wrong? Can I help?”

“No,” a woman’s voice whispered. “No one can.” Though she spoke perfect English, her voice held a hint of a Spanish accent.

Briana squinted, trying to make out shapes in the shadows. A figure sat hunkered over, back against the wall, holding a small bundle.

“Tell me what’s troubling you. Maybe I can help.” Briana edged nearer, looking past the hunched figure for a possible trap. When nothing else moved in the darkness, she squatted beside a slight woman, wearing a black sweater and with a hood covering her hair. She looked up at Briana, her eyes red-rimmed, tears making tracks of her mascara on her cheeks.

The baby in her arms whimpered.

“What’s your name?” Briana asked.

“I can’t.” The woman’s shoulders slumped.

“My name is Briana,” she said. “I just want to know your name.”

For a long moment, the young mother hesitated. Then in a whisper, she said, “Alejandra.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Briana said, in the tone she used when she wanted to calm someone who was distraught. “And the baby?”

The woman smiled down at the infant in her arms. “Bella.”

“She’s beautiful.” Briana couldn’t leave them alone in the alley. “Do you need help getting home?”

She shook her head. “I can’t go there.”

“Has someone hurt you?” Briana asked, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “I can call the police. We can have him arrested.”

“No!” The woman reached out and grabbed Briana’s wrist.

Alarm race through Briana. Instinctively, she drew back.

The woman held tightly to Briana’s wrist, balancing the baby in the curve of her other arm. “Don’t call. I can’t… He can’t know where I am.”

“If he’s threatening you, you need to let the police know,” Briana urged, prying the woman’s hand free of her wrist. “They can issue a restraining order against him.” When the woman shot a glance around Briana, Briana looked back, too. A couple walked past the end of the alley without pausing.

“Are you afraid to go home?” Briana asked.

“I have no home.” The mother released Briana’s arm and bent over her baby, sobbing. “He had it burned to the ground.”

Briana gasped. “Then you have to go to the police.”

She shook her head. “They can’t stop him. He doesn’t even live in this country.”

“Then how…?”

“He has people,” she said. “Everywhere.”

Briana sank to her knees beside her. “Why is he doing this to you?”

The woman looked from the baby in her arms up to Briana. “He wants my baby. He won’t stop until he has her.”

Briana studied the woman and child as the first drops of rain fell. “You can’t stay out here. You and the baby need shelter.” She