Lullabies and Lies - By Mallory Kane Page 0,1

from her throat.

A hand gripped her shoulder and she shrieked, but it was the grocery clerk.

“Sunny! I was on my way home. What’s wrong?”

“My baby! Someone knocked me down and took Emily!” She sobbed and closed her fist around the note.

The clerk gasped. She pulled out her cell phone. “I’ll call the police.”

“No! Wait!”

But the woman was already dialing.

You’ve messed with the wrong person…your kid will die.

What was she going to tell the police?

Chapter One

15 hours missing

“The case is in Nashville?” Special Agent Griffin Stone took the file from his boss and opened it.

Nashville. Just the name of his hometown started a hollow ache in his chest. He’d never intended to go back there.

“I’d rather not—” he started, but Mitch Decker was still talking.

“It’s a missing child, a six-month-old infant. The mother was assaulted and the infant grabbed about eight thirty last night outside a grocery store near her home.”

The ache in Griff’s chest intensified. “Why isn’t the local agent handling it? Or CAC?”

“The local agent is a rookie. And the Head of the Crimes Against Children Division asked specifically for you, and I agreed,” Decker said quietly, his tone carrying both authority and compassion. “He knows your history with Nashville, and your experience with missing children.”

In Griff’s mind, those two facts made him unsuitable for the job. “I’d have figured that after the Senator’s son—” The bitterness in his voice scraped his throat.

“That wasn’t your fault.”

Not your fault.

He’d known those words would come back to haunt him someday. He’d been fourteen the first time he’d heard them. He hadn’t believed the FBI agent then, and he didn’t believe Decker now.

“I was too slow. Waiting for backup was a mistake.”

“Waiting for backup was your only option. The kidnappers could have still been in there.”

Self-disgust wormed its way through him. “No, it wasn’t my only option. If I’d gone on in—if I’d gotten to him five minutes earlier—Senator Chapman’s son would be alive.”

Decker stood and came around the desk. He placed a hand on Griff’s shoulder. “You did everything right. And as always, you went far beyond the call of duty.”

Everything right. Yeah. Griff was sure that gave a lot of comfort to the Senator when he walked past his son’s empty bedroom night after night.

“Look, Griff. I wouldn’t send you if I wasn’t sure you can handle it.”

Decker’s belief in him was the only thing that kept Griff from begging him to send someone else.

He cleared his throat. “So what’s the interest of the Division of Unsolved Mysteries in this case?”

“A little over a month ago, someone broke into Sunny Loveless’s home, sabotaged her computer and took her case files. Since then—”

“Case files?” Griff interrupted. Despite his aversion to anything connected with Nashville, the words piqued his interest. He looked down at a faxed copy of a newspaper article, catching Decker’s nod out of the corner of his eye.

“Ms. Loveless is a private investigator.”

“Loveless, Inc.,” Griff read. “We specialize in—”

Decker’s mouth turned up in a wry smile. “Happy endings. I saw that.”

No such thing. The response sprang automatically into Griff’s head, surprising him. When had he become that cynical? Cynicism implied a loss of hope. The ache in his chest intensified.

Who’d have thought he had any hope left to lose?

“Apparently her specialty is reuniting families, friends who have lost touch, that kind of thing. She’s only had her license for two years.”

“Two years. Still, she could have racked up a few disgruntled customers.”

“Yeah. All the information we have on her previous cases is there.” Decker crossed his arms and propped a hip on the corner of his desk. “Anyhow, as I was saying, since the break-in, there have been several seemingly unrelated threats and incidents. There are notations about them in the file.”

“Phone calls, vague threats.” Griff turned a page. “Some mild vandalism that may or may not be related.” He looked up. “Sounds like whoever took her case files has been using the information in the files to harass her—or maybe to blackmail her.”

Decker nodded. “Now, her child has been kidnapped. Nashville PD is asking for the FBI’s help.”

“So they believe the abduction is related to one of Ms. Loveless’s cases? What about her family? The baby’s father?” Griff flipped pages. “Here it is. Ms. Loveless adopted the infant at birth. Biological mother is a teenager.” He turned another page, and scanned the information. “Is she married? Divorced? Other children?”

“No. Ms. Loveless has never been married. She was a foundling herself. Adopted by an older couple who have since