Iona gives the reader enough information to connect… quickly.

KRISTIEK

Iona Is such a good writer… [keeps] you reading til the very end.

JACKIE GALAMB

… the author does a phenomenal job telling the story… Ms. Findley makes you feel all the emotions that these two people are going through.

LELIM0612

New Series Debut by Iona Findley – Same great contemporary romance as the HERO’S HEART SERIES. 

Introducing THE TOUSSAINTS series. This contemporary romance blends heartwarming love with family fun, suspense, and a hint of paranormal to create a beautiful balance of heat, heartache, and happiness.

 

When New Orleans Missing Persons Detective Philippe Toussaint’s only niece is abducted, he’ll do anything to secure her safe return. With few clues and limited time, he seeks answers from every resource, no matter how far-fetched.  Even if it means turning to intensely private, psychic artist Claire Davenport whose secret dream paintings feature the frightened teen girl.

Claire wants to help but fears her psychic ability will be exposed.  She is certain she can never be safe in Philippe’s upper crust, public world, despite his promises to love and protect her. The case is only the beginning of their problems.

Can Philippe protect the woman he is falling in love with and her secret or will betrayal and fear destroy their dreams of love?

 

THE TOUSSAINTS:
Trust My Love (Book #1) Philippe and Claire

Unwind My Love (Book #2) Delphine and Geo

Reclaimed by Love (Book #3) Remy and Rachel

HERO’S HEART SERIES:
Opening Hearts (Book #1) Sam and Jessalyn

Risking Hearts (Book #2) Jake and Hope

Joining Hearts (Book #3) Zoe and Marcus

Evolving Hearts (Book #4) Andy and Amy

Finding Hearts (Book #5) Mikey and Julia

 

If you love uplifting stories about the power of love, trust, and hope, order TRUST MY LOVE today.

 

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CHAPTER ONE: 

Psychics and detectives didn’t mix. If anyone had told him he’d work a case with a psychic, Philippe would have handcuffed and jailed them for public intoxication. Only someone loopy on New Orleans Sazeracs and sing-alongs would claim something so absurd. The powerful cognac and absinthe drinks made visitors dream up all kinds of crazy — even psychic crazy.

Philippe had fortune telling nonsense on his mind as he reached up and swiped the beaded sweat from his brow. Had to be at least a hundred degrees, even under the galleys and balconies of the buildings, and the heavy, humid air wasn’t the only thing steamed up. Geo, his partner and one of the finest missing persons detectives in New Orleans, was on a tear.

“So she tells this woman, ‘You will meet your future husband on a ship. He is dark and handsome and from a distant land.’ Unbelievable. The woman paid $60 for that crap.”

Philippe listened to his partner’s dramatic tirade. As they crossed Jackson Square, he gauged Geo’s annoyance with the psychic — only a seven on a scale from one to ten. Not bad.  A normal rant, nothing critical. After all, no self-respecting police detective believed in more than five senses.

“I wanted to arrest them both,” his partner said.  “The priestess of woo-woo for bilking a tourist, and the visitor for… I don’t know… inappropriate use of travel funds or something.” Geo’s hand gestures, wild and deranged, might have stood out in another city, but no one in the French Quarter was likely to notice.

“Now you’re just making shit up,” Philippe chided.

His buddy shrugged. “It may not be a real crime, but it seriously ought to be.”

Philippe acquiesced with one silent nod, indicating he agreed. Psychics oozed out of the alleyways and dark spaces in New Orleans and they were a damn nuisance. He hated the way they preyed on the public. Some thought of fortune telling as harmless fun. Most of the tourists believed that. Not true. Those too hopeful, or too naïve, were fooled. Psychics hurt people. Sometimes even locals.

“I saw you staring them down from across the square. You’re just pissed because the tourist was so enthralled with her fortune, she didn’t notice you swaggering by.”

Geo slicked back his shaggy hair. “Well yeah…”

Philippe laughed as he reached over and punched his partner in the shoulder. It was great having a partner you could trust in a crunch and laugh with too. Plus, they always agreed on the important stuff. Stuff like Central Grocery, the only place to pick up delicious, super-sized sandwiches. The crowded deli counter tucked away down by the French market was always worth the quick trek across The Quarter to snag lunch. His stomach growled and his mouth watered at the scents of fresh bread and Italian herbs wafting out of the bag he carried.

Ten inches of round, pungent goodness. Sheer perfection. The secret was the olive salad topping. That stuff blended perfectly with the Italian meats and cheeses. He widened his stride, speeding his pace. Time to get back into the frosty air conditioning at headquarters with his muffuletta and root beer. “Why were you checking out the redhead tourist anyway?” he called over his shoulder to Geo, who was just a half step behind. “What happened to Sheila?”

Geo’s unrepentant grin shot back at him. “Man’d have to be dead to miss a beauty like that one.”

Considering his partner’s player attitude and marveling at his endurance, Philippe felt a tug of regret. His own love life screeched to a stop last month when he stopped humoring his parents and their social circle. He wanted someone special, and she wasn’t going to be one of the “appropriate” ones unofficially selected by his parent’s social club. He’d find her another way.

He shot a glance at his womanizing partner. “Every night with Sheila’s not enough?” he asked. “You’ve shown up wrinkled and worn out every day this week. Thank God for the department’s on-site dry cleaning and the locker room shower,” he punched his verbal jab home perfectly. “Without those you’d smell like a brothel.”

Geo grinned. “Hey, there’s more of me to go around. Besides, I haven’t seen you push women away when they become mesmerized by your looks, Levine.”

Shit. The stupid nickname. Philippe bit back a reply and shot a killing glare at his partner. Damn Geo. Years ago, a fellow detective in the Missing Persons Unit had begun calling him Levine because of his resemblance to the rock star. His dark hair, vivid blue eyes, and upright stature were similar to the singer, but damn. Razzing from Geo and the rest of his unit were all his looks ever earned him.

Hell, even civilian visitors to Missing Persons had commented on the likeness. No one with half a brain wanted to look like a popular celeb. A detective wanted attention for his casework and his results. Ball busting was part of the cop culture, but he wished they’d choose something else to harp on. Even his straight-laced, by-the-book personality was fair game. Just not that damn name. His skin crawled when people started in with the “does anyone ever say you look like…” mirror image crap. Jesus, who wanted to be compared to some slick looking, tattoo coated pop star?

Experience told him ignoring Geo’s swipe was the best course of action. So he clamped his jaw shut and thought of his lunch again, letting the irritation slip away.

A companionable silence fell over them as they strolled through the majestic iron gates and up the steps of the sunny yellow Spanish Colonial building. Tucked inside of the ornate facade was the far less grand New Orleans Police Department. He wanted to get inside, cool down, and dive in to lunch. Geo probably wanted the same.

They pressed forward, breezing through the refined marble entryway and the twenty-two foot cypress and glass doors. Elegance and formality nosedived when they crossed into the center hub of the NOPD Missing Persons Unit, also known by its rather inglorious nickname, “The Swamp.”

“Did you hear Haydel cleared the Tibo case yesterday? Caught some positive attention for a change,” said Geo, bumping a chair out of his path as he made for his desk. The room was empty, which wasn’t a surprise. Lunch break was celebrated here with a zeal found only in New Orleans. Any excuse to cut loose was not to be squandered, and everyone cleared out when they had the chance.

Philippe followed in Geo’s wake, opting for the quickest path. “Yeah, I heard. Good for him. He deserves the break.”

“You helped him there.”

“Nah, he pulled it in himself.”

“With your contacts and your suggestions.”

Philippe shrugged. “He’s going to be a good detective. Just needs some confidence, and he’ll build that with success.”

“Needs a little less heat from the brass too.”

“Yeah, well I think he’s worth the effort.” He smiled thinking about the young recruit.

“I think he owes you a beer, and I’ll take one too.” Geo grinned and dropped his meal on his chair, the only clear surface in his workspace.

Rounding his desk, Philippe spread out his lunch, sat down, and was already diving in for the first mouthful as he watched Geo shove aside a notepad and several case folders to make room for his food. Geo would never learn. Clear thinking and logic came easier with a desktop free of debris.

The Swamp was chaotic enough without adding any additional layers of mess. Antique desks, too old to deserve such a name, each sported circa 2009 telephones, stacks of binders, and loose paperwork. A face to face configuration linked up each pair of desks, so detective partners could easily discuss their casework. It might be trite, but it still worked. The salvaged wooden desks all suffered water damage from when Hurricane Katrina hit. None of the drawers opened afterwards, but they’d been cleaned up and repainted a gunmetal grey, and the desktops functioned fine, according to Geo.

Philippe’s workspace standards were higher, but he’d learned to not voice those opinions. Instead he brought in his own drawer and filing unit that rolled up under the desk on his side. It’d be nice to get rid of the faint smell of mildew and sweat that permeated The Swamp too, but that would be like pushing mud uphill — virtually impossible.

The two men savored their huge, gooey sandwiches in silence until Philippe’s cell rang. The funny picture of his brother and niece on the smartphone screen made him smile.

“Hey Remy, where y’at?

“Philippe,” Remy gasped, as if out of breath. “Thank God. You gotta help me.”

He stiffened and jerked upright as if he’d been tased. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Panic and stress raced through Remy’s voice.

“What’s up?”

“She’s missing!” rasped Philippe’s normally stalwart brother.

His stomach clenched and slammed back against his now ridged spine. “Who, Remy?” Philippe urged, bracing himself for a deathblow. He didn’t know why but he prepared to hurt.

Despair and anguish spewed through the line. “Alexis… My girl…Alexis is missing.”

Philippe swept the remains of his lunch into the trash basket and stood, waving at Geo, urging him to do the same.

“What do you mean, missing?” Geo’s head popped up to attention at his stunned tone.

“She’s gone. Just gone.” Philippe cringed at the unfamiliar break in his brother’s shattered voice. “What if someone took her? They might be hurting her. Oh, God.”

Geo stood and leaned closer across the desk as Philippe switched the call to speakerphone and laid the device on the desk between them. “Tell us,” Philippe said.

Remy gasped in one raw breath and his voice cracked. “She’s just gone.” Philippe pictured Remy, and his hands balled into fists, fighting to control his fear. “She was working her shift at Bon Temps. I never should have agreed to her working there. She’s too young.”

“That’s not going to help,” Philippe said. “She was detemined, and she wanted to follow your example. She’s railed at the Louisiana child labor laws for the last four years, and you know it. If she’d been allowed to work at ten years old, she would have. She was at work, then what?”

“Apparently she went for a quick break and never came back. The evening rush was beginning so no one noticed at first.”

“How long since then?” Geo called from across the desk.

“When her tables started to get irritated and food orders stacked up, they realized she was nowhere around. James, the restaurant manager, began looking for her, while the others kept working the dinner crowd. He rounded up all the available hotel staff and they searched everywhere.”

Philippe mentally tallied the time required to search the Toussaint family’s historic hotel. With over five hundred luxuriously appointed guestrooms and countless common areas, he doubted the search was even complete.

Remy, his steady, unflappable brother, continued to lose it on the phone. “Oh God… where is she?!”

Philippe snatched up the cellphone, circled around his desk, and grabbed his partner’s arm, dragging him across The Swamp to the door. Realization struck. He stopped manhandling his buddy and dropped his hand to his side, but kept his bee-line for the door. “I don’t know, Remy, but we’ll find her. Geo and I are en route now.”

The Belle Alexandrine stood only a couple of blocks from the station, so the two detectives didn’t bother with a car. They sprinted in lock step along the covered walk-ways and cracked sidewalks to the hotel.

Philippe continued questioning Remy on speakerphone as he ran, not missing a beat. “Has anyone spoken with her co-workers yet? Asked if they know where she went?”

“Some of them. Three officers are here now but no one came up with anything helpful,” he said. “No one knows where she is.” The anxiety and fear in Remy’s voice escalated again. “They thought it was me. That I did something to her.” Rapid angry breathing came through the line. “What the hell? The officers wasted time pushing on me. Only after they made the Toussaint connection did they ease up,” he said. “I’d never hurt Alexis. Never.”

As if he needed to tell them. Remy’s last name was of-ficially Lacour-Toussaint, but in all the ways that mattered he was just a Toussaint. None of them would ever hurt Alexis.

Remy beseeched them both. “You’ve got to help my baby, I can’t lose her too.”

Philippe shared a quick glance with Geo, who rushed along beside him. They both knew Remy still mourned his wife, who died of cancer two years earlier.

Geo chimed in to reassure Remy, “You’re not going to lose her, man! No way are we letting that happen. We find people. It’s what we do. We’ll find her.”

Philippe disconnected the call and he and Geo locked eyes. The tight clamp of Geo’s steely jaw told the story. Time was critical.

“Well shit,” said Geo. Worry etched deep creases between his brows.

Very few non-family abductions occurred in Louisiana, fewer than ten since Philippe joined the force. All the re-sources of Louisiana law enforcement would be thrown at finding Alexis, but that didn’t guarantee her safe return. She’d been gone a least an hour, and horrors could happen much faster than that. Especially to beautiful young girls, especially in this city.

“Too much time,” said Philippe. “Minutes count now.” He caught Geo’s nod of agreement in his peripheral vision. “We’ve got to get in there and get this done.” Hard times pounded on New Orleans in the last decade, causing ex-tensive damage. When Katrina destroyed the city, the storm took more than the immediate property and lives. Nature’s fury and the failure of the levees left behind a city in shambles. After the Federal Emergency Management Agency scandals died down and the aid workers left town, everyone assumed things went back to normal for New Orleans. He knew better. In time, the focus and prayers of the country moved on to other disasters.  Outsiders didn’t care about New Orleans anymore. Local stories of strength and resilience, of community and rebirth, were told. But a dark remnant of the flooding remained. So much loss from the storm; lost people, lost dignity, lost security. A darkness that grew from the mud, sludge, and destruction the city dug out of.

A deep, traumatic slime coated everything for a while. No matter how hard the locals tried to wash the mess away, that slime left a stain. Not just on the buildings, the streets, and the parks, but also on the people. Some of them suffered damage as well. Not all, but enough. Enough for Philippe to be worried. Extremely worried. He didn’t tell Remy. Of course, not. They had to find Alexis… fast!

Fingers blazed across the numbers as each detective dialed out again.

“I’ve got Special Victims,” Philippe said.

“Delphine,” Geo replied indicating his intent to call Philippe’s oldest sister and the current hotel manager. They fell into their familiar rhythm, having done this before.

Philippe called in as much detail as possible for the release of an Amber alert. The call should have been made by the lead officer on scene. He wasted no energy being frustrated at the oversight, or missed priority. Details were often overlooked or delayed when the police first arrived on scene. Normally he’d go with the more political move and reach out to the officers involved to offer a friendly reminder.

Not today.

Not for a Toussaint.

The office dispatcher advised him of the twenty minute window to report any additional details. The alerts went out nationwide. Having a child involved meant not waiting; no delays and no red tape. Just action.

He tapped Geo on the arm and muttered, “T-minus 20 for Amber.” Since Alexis was only fourteen, the Special Victims team and the State Bureau of Investigators would own the case, but he and Geo wouldn’t give up. They’d find a way to get involved, or they’d take the hunt off book and work it themselves. Or both.

He disconnected the call, and Geo said, “All of the family have been called. No one has heard from her. Leo’s calling the hospitals and Emmie’s calling Alexis’s friends. They both promised to get back to us in fifteen.”

Remy met them on The Belle Alexandrine’s red carpet entry. The partners took in the sight of him, stress lines creased his brow. His dilated pupils and ashen skin spoke volumes. His usual powerful and dangerous energy was missing. Today he was just a dad. Philippe ached inside, hating the worn edges of his brother’s appearance.

“Where is she?” Remy almost sobbed. Philippe’s head began to throb as his brother bit back a sob. Thankfully, Delphine joined them from across the lobby.

“Take him somewhere private and get him a coffee,” Philippe said. “I’ll find you guys once the Amber alert is out on the air.” Delphine gave him a crisp nod and led their brother away.

Shoving Remy aside hurt. Years ago Remy became Philippe’s best buddy when he came to live with the Toussaints. Philippe was nine. Remy only six. The three year difference in their ages felt smaller. Remy grew up quick when his parents died. His younger brother and sister, Rex and Mahalia, needed looking after. Philippe’s parents opened their hearts and family to the young Lacour trio, stepping in as surrogates for the lost parents. But Remy still aged up, becoming the master of his own little family.

These days, which siblings were adopted as orphans and which were birthright Toussaints, could not be discerned. The siblings melded together like ingredients in a spicy gumbo, and the whole group rarely thought about the time before the Lacour kids came to stay.

Regardless of how close they were, Philippe needed to focus on the case now. He had to eliminate any noise or distraction. Anything not a direct line to finding Alexis must be shut out or shut down. Much as he loved Remy, he was a cop now, not a brother.

 

*****

 

A wicked darkness penetrated the sprawling, dirty room, looming over the ornate ironwork bed and the huge antique painting on the wall. Slivers of light peeked in between the cracks of a boarded up window. Fear rolled off the young girl crouched against the headboard of the illuminated bed.

Her riotous brunette curls tangled around her face, pushed to one side. Tears streamed down her cheeks as her right hand reached up to swipe them away while her panicked, tawny eyes blazed out through the room. She wore a white, wrap-around shirt, which gaped open where it was ripped and a streak of reddish brown tainted one sleeve. Blood?

Red satin sheets covered the bed and partially obscured her skirt and legs. The loud scrape and clang of the bolt sliding across the large metal door appeared to shatter the girl. He was back! The teen shrank back, trying to disappear. She trembled and shook and wriggled madly as if she wanted away, but found herself pinned in place. With her eyes glued on the door she whispered, “No… Oh God…He’s back… no, no, no…”

 

No, no, NO! Claire pounded her arms on the bed. Heart racing, she dragged in deep breaths until the adrenaline surge passed. When would this one end? Why wouldn’t it go away? Eyes still pinched shut, she groped for her alarm clock and willed her lids open.

She squinted against the morning light and spotted Hobbs, her huge, orange tomcat, towering over her from atop the nightstand. Large yellow eyes glared down, indicating he found her tantrum unacceptable. “Ugh. How can it be morning already?” she asked out loud. She felt like she’d barely slept. Hobbs continued the skunk-eye. Ignoring him, she jerked out of bed and staggered into the kitchen. She grabbed two glasses of water, one to drink and one for her paints, and rushed up to the loft to begin work.

Three steps up, she missed one and cried out when she whacked her shin on the next step. Undaunted, she pushed through the pain like a wounded Olympian, focused on her goal. The relentless compulsion from the dream drove her hard. She had to paint. Now. While the images shone fresh in her mind. God, she hated the pressure, the coercion. She wasn’t a fleck of iron dust to be sucked towards a gigantic magnet, dammit.

She wanted a choice.

She wanted to do anything other than working on another dreamscape. But experience told her to suck it up and paint. The dream images would zing around inside her like mosquitoes trapped in a mason jar until she put them down on canvas.

The array of earlier dream paintings assaulted her as she entered the loft. What a waste. Wasted time, wasted materials, wasted energy. She gulped down some of her water, trying to ease her dry throat. Water might quench her thirst, but the liquid didn’t help with the raw sense of foreboding deep in her bones as she took in the repetitive images.

The metallic scent of paint that welcomed her to the studio normally made her happy, but the grunge on her teeth and her morning dragon breath reminded her she’d been rushed…again. She scowled. What would it hurt if she took time to brush her teeth first? Her demon wouldn’t allow the delay though, which sucked.

She cast her eyes over the dreamscapes, where she’d laid them out in chronological order. She noted the slight differences between them. Each image aligned closely to the scene before it, with only a few small deviations from one to the next. She bit her bottom lip as she worried about the progression, dreading what might come next. Moving across the room to a clean canvas, she began to paint.

She’d caught more today. Details of the art that hung from the walls of the creepy room had filled in. It always seemed odd to depict a painting as the subject matter inside one of her paintings. The refinement and splendor of the picture inside her painting disquieted her soul and sent a chill down her spine.

She hadn’t been able to make out the context of the framed image hanging from the brick wall until today. She studied the glittering crown and a white gloved hand, which revealed it as a portrait. She painted every detail, just as she dreamed it. A rumpled candy wrapper peeked out from under the bed — a famous creole praline, one of the chewy ones. That addition creeped her out. She preferred the crunchy ones. Was the dream real, possibly nearby, or from her imagination?

Claire stepped away from the work, struck again by the beauty of the young girl. The teen’s left wrist now appeared to be handcuffed to the bed frame. Her heart ached. She recognized the fear and loneliness and agony in the girl’s eyes. Each emotion scraped and scratched at her, the pain familiar. Her stomach turned over as she thought of what might be happening to the young beauty. The scene looked bad but things could get worse. What horrific images would tomorrow’s painting show?

She stalked over to the counter nearby and began cleaning up her art supplies. She swiped her brushes across a clean washcloth and tried to tamp down her impotent rage. She ruined one of her favorite brushes before she focused on slowing her breathing and finishing the task. She needed calm and she needed a break.

She forced herself into deliberate, measured steps and headed to the stairway, as if that small bit of control would maintain her sanity. Hobbs raced her down the stairs. His antics tore a crooked smile from her hardened face. He always cheered her up. She brightened her mood even more by focusing only on what came next.

A trip to the market for fresh strawberries and spinach and maybe some tuna for her fur-buddy would pep her up. Not yet though. She couldn’t be around people until she regained her equilibrium. Her spirit lightened as she moved away from the ominous paintings, but her emotions weren’t smooth enough yet for the unpredictability of the streets. Fridays ramped up the crazy. The Quarter would be teeming with a fresh onslaught of exuberant tourists and a few locals, laughing, drinking, and joking as they strove to kick off their weekend shenanigans.

She made her way to the bathroom, with Hobbs hot on her trail. He wanted breakfast, but clean teeth and a shower came first. “I won’t be long,” she assured him, slamming the door before he could follow her inside. “Peeping Tom,” she muttered as she turned on the faucet.

Gray smudges rimmed her eyes when she glanced into the mirror. She’d stayed up too late. But the movie was worth the loss of sleep. Pure magical romantic genius. One of those against all odds ones. The story line included everything she wanted, everything she’d never have. The love prevailed, sweet and true, the passion sizzled, and the hero and heroine ended up blissfully happy together. The heart hugging warmth and happiness brought on by the film was so good it almost couldn’t be ruined. Not even by the dream. The horror story.

She jumped at the loud thumps of Hobbs pounding on the door. The trickster was out of luck with the cut glass doorknob on her bathroom. He opened the closet door, the one with the pull down handle, when he wanted to. Not this one. She smiled to herself, imagining his irritation with the round turn-style knob. Who said cats couldn’t communicate?

Fifteen steam-filled minutes later, she sighed and con-tentment vibrated through her body. Almost human. She glanced in the mirror and smiled at the splotchy red skin… the perfect shower; hot enough to burn skin off. She inhaled, enjoying the sweet ginger scent of the body scrub she used to remove a layer or two of sticky southern sweat. New Orleans wasn’t for the squeamish. The climate broiled everything in the summertime, but so what. Everyone knew it was the best city in the South.

She pulled on a comfy pair of cornflower blue leggings, the super soft ones, almost like pajamas. She slid on her ballet flats and an over-sized paint tunic, and headed to the kitchen. Hobbs waited in his corner for her arrival. Indignant golden eyes stared up at her.

He sat next to his food dish, admonishing her. “Did I take too long showering this morning, boy?” She rubbed his head in a conciliatory gesture. She poured fresh food and water into his bowls and stroked him again, adding in the obligatory rub behind his ears. He pretended to ignore her. Be that way.

She glanced around her small, two story apartment, and decided some house cleanup was in order. Some might find her home cramped, but for her the unit was perfect. She loved the peaceful quiet of the building’s inner courtyard. Flowering plants flowed over the brick patio, turning the whole space lush and colorful.  She’d lucked into the best unit in the building. Tons of natural light streamed into the top floor dormer windows, making the loft ideal for her painting studio.

What she didn’t love was how messy she was. She scooped up a jacket from a chair and the wet hair towel she’d tossed on the sofa this morning. In minutes both were where they belonged. She’d made a home of this place rescuing each piece of furniture from the local flea market. She loved them back to life, refinishing and paint-ing them to suit her taste. Every color was chosen with great deliberation for the right mood and energy. Her home became a peaceful, private sanctuary; everything there suited her perfectly.

Hobbs thought it was awesome too since he deigned to leave the streets. He was a stray until he joined her. Claire thought of that day and smiled. She’d baked, or rather burned, a batch of cookies. She made too many for one person, which worked out well after she threw more than half of the blackened lumps in the trash. She’d propped the patio door open to let out the cloud of smoke. Before she knew it the tomcat strolled in, scouted through the place, and moved himself in.

“Hobbs, I wish you could clean up after me, then you’d be the perfect roommate.” He opened one eye, half-heartedly acknowledging her comment before stretching and settling back into the corner of the couch for his first nap of the day. Claire smiled, watching his gentle breathing, then pushed herself back on task.

It was crazy how long she put this off. Even after weeks of neglect, it only took a few hours to clean the whole place. She clicked on the TV, selecting a home decorating show for some background noise while she worked. Only half listening, she moved through the room putting things where they belonged.

Not perfect, but better. It may look lived in, but it was home. And it was hers. Besides, no one ever saw it.

SQUAK……… SQUAK…………SQUAK……….. The loud alarm from the television startled her. She glanced over at the emergency broadcast message. Since Hurricane Katrina she paid close attention to any alerts.

Luck had her away at an art exhibition during the days of the storm. She’d returned home to little damage in her own home, but chaos all around. If you lived through the aftermath of the national disaster in New Orleans, you never forgot. But this wasn’t a weather alert.

The image of a young girl filled the screen. She gasped and moved in closer.

No.

That looks like…

No, it couldn’t… no.

Dammit! It’s her. Who is that girl? She listened as mechanical voice of the Amber alert droned out the message.

“The New Orleans Police Department is searching for missing child Alexis Lacour-Toussaint, age 14. The girl went missing today from The Belle Alexandrine Hotel. Law enforcement officials believe this child to be in grave and immediate danger. If you have any information regarding this abduction, call the New Orleans Police Department at …”

She sat in horrified silence as the announcer rattled off the phone number. Oh God. No. Why now, why after so long? Her worst nightmare was coming true.”

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