SURROGATE ESCAPE #1
Apache Protectors: Wolf Den
Enter the world of Apache Protectors: Wolf Den
A riveting new series begins!
A newborn abandoned in his truck? Tribal policeman Jake Redhorse immediately summons nurse Lori Mott--his former fiancée--for help. But Jake jilted Lori and now must regain her trust while fighting awakening desires neither can deny. The infant they adore offers them a second chance...if they can discover why she's the target of kidnappers.
Excerpt from SURROGATE ESCAPE - Apache Protectors: Wolf Den
Why did the cramping continue even after she had delivered the baby? She waited out of sight, watching the road for the return of Officer Redhorse. It was cold, so she kept the wiggling girl inside her jacket against her skin, allowing her to suck. That was what babies liked, to be on their mother’s skin. Only she wasn’t its mother. She’d seen enough of her brothers and sisters come home from the hospital to know that Apache babies did not have blond hair.
Finally, she spotted his squad car as he made the turn toward their street. Even in the predawn, she could make out the familiar dark, round image on the white panel of the door that she knew was the tribe’s great seal. There was no time to reach his front step now. He was driving too fast, and she’d never make it back to cover before he spotted her. So she rushed from the tree line only as far as the back of his pick-up, intending to wrap the baby in her own coat.
Climbing up onto the bumper was difficult with the use of only one hand. She glanced to the road. He was nearly here. She saw something in the truck bed, a garment, and she snatched it up, then bundled the little girl inside the fleece and laid her gently on the bed of the truck. If he didn’t see the baby, she’d come back and get her, leave her on his doorstep, knock and run.
Why hadn’t she thought of that before?
She draped one sleeve of the men’s fleece jacket over the gate of the pickup bed and jumped down. The jolt of the landing made her hurt all over and she gave a sharp cry. She grabbed her middle with both hands as she hurried back to cover just as he made the turn into his driveway.
In the brush between the two houses, the girl pressed a hand to her mouth. Something was happening. Her body was clenching again as if she were still in labor. The cramp went all the way around her middle.
The door to Officer Redhorse’s squad car opened and he stood, glancing around and then straight at her. She sank back. He’d seen her. Any second now he’d come over here and arrest her. She whimpered, choking the pain back far in her throat. Something issued from between her legs. She glanced down at the quivering purple thing. What was that? She poked at it and then stood. The umbilical cord that had still been attached to her body between her legs was fixed to the thing. It looked like her liver. She wondered if she would die without the organ. Clearly something inside had torn loose. But the bleeding was slowing.
She wasn’t stupid. She knew how girls got pregnant, and she knew she’d never done anything like that with a boy. Yet she’d given birth to a baby. Could someone have done that to her while she was sleeping?
No, that just wasn’t possible. Was it?
She looked back toward the driveway. Redhorse carried something in his arms as he disappeared into his home.
The girl staggered out once more and checked the truck. The baby was gone. She breathed a sigh and then turned toward home, her insides cramping, her legs trembling from the effort of bringing the baby into the world.
She crept away, holding her aching, sagging middle with both hands. No one was awake yet when she reached the bathroom to clean up. She was careful not to get blood on any of the towels. It was likely that her mother would not notice, or would blame the stain on her monthly cycle. Still, she could not take the chance.
With the amount of beer her mother had consumed, she knew that she wouldn’t be up for hours. But her brothers and sisters would need to be fed. She’d stay long enough to do that, at least.
After removing her coat and shucking out of her shirt, she noticed the bloody imprint of the infant on her side. She swallowed the lump rising in her throat. She couldn’t keep the baby. Not when someone wanted it badly enough to come to her house looking for her.
She had hidden the pregnancy and escaped the creepy pair that stalked her, even dropping out of school to avoid them. But they knew. Somehow, they knew about the pregnancy even before she did. Would they stop now?
Maybe if she showed up somewhere in something that proved she was no longer pregnant— But then they might wonder where it had gone. She finished washing and then headed back outside. The newborn was not her flesh. But she still needed to protect her. She would go see what Officer Redhorse was doing and make sure the baby was safe.
She’d stay long enough to do that, at least. Then she would run like Elsie. She had to, because they would come back. They always came back.
Officer Jake Redhorse turned into his driveway and caught movement in his periphery by the line of pine and sticker bushes to his left. The fatigue must be affecting his vision because when he turned toward his neighbor’s yard, there was nothing there.
Jake put his police unit into Park in the usual place, behind his silver F-150 pickup. That was when he noticed the red cloth hanging out of the back of his truck bed. That had not been there when he’d pulled in from his last shift sometime Thursday night, which was two days ago. Shifts had been unpredictable since the dam breech.
He stared at the red fleece. Someone had been messing with his truck.
“They better not have busted into my tools,” he muttered and left his police unit, using his fob to lock the car. He needed to remove the shotgun and his personal gear from the trunk and take them inside, but first he had to see what the vandals had done to his vehicle.
Since the collapse of the Skeleton Cliff Dam just this week, there was an uptick in petty crime, including a number of break-ins of the houses left behind in the ongoing relocation effort, and apparently being a cop did not exempt him from vandalism.
His small police force of seven struggled to keep order and so, five days after the explosion, his tribal council voted to accept the help of the National Guard to keep order in the tribal seat in Piñon Forks. The council also agreed to allow FEMA to provide temporary housing for the low-lying communities along the river. And now the Army Corps of Engineers was helping plan a more stable temporary dam to support the pile of rubble that had stopped the water and saved his people. But the outsiders were not allowed to venture past the river town. So his small police force was stretched over the two remaining communities of Turquoise Ridge and Koun’nde, on the Turquoise Canyon Apache Reservation, where he lived. Even with outsider help, his shifts were still way too long.
“Ah, not my drill,” he said, hope butting up against apprehension.
When Jake left his vehicle and approached the tailgate of his truck, he had the distinct feeling of being watched. A sweeping search of his surroundings showed no one. But the hairs on his neck remained raised like the scruff of a barking dog. He could still see his breath in the cool mountain air. Late September was like that here. Cold nights. Warm, dry days.
“Hello?” he called, and received no answer but the autumn wind. Jake turned his collar up against the chill.
He glanced over the tailgate into the truck bed, now recognizing the red cloth. It was a polar-fleece jacket his mother had given him. He disliked red for several reasons—for one, it reminded him of a target, which, as a police officer, he already was, and for another, it reminded him of the iconic red trade cloth his people, the Tonto Apache, had once tied around their foreheads to keep the Anglos from shooting them by accident during the Apache Wars. His tribe had fought with the U.S. Army in that one. Finally, the cloth reminded him of Lori Mott, as it was her favorite color.
The jacket was wet. He glanced down at the fabric, which was wrapped around something. At first he thought it was a child’s doll. Then the doll moved.
Jake jumped back, hand going automatically to his service weapon, a .45 caliber, as his brain tried to make sense of what he had seen. He had his flashlight out in a moment and shone it on the bundle.
The tiny forehead wrinkled. It was a baby, ghastly pale, its skin translucent with something that looked like a sheet of white tissue hanging from it. The baby’s mouth opened, and a thready sound emerged.
Jake jumped back again. Someone had left a baby in the bed of his truck. A baby!
He lifted his radio from his hip and called for an ambulance. The reply came from the volunteer fire station back in Piñon Forks, who answered calls after-hours. Unfortunately, the tribe’s one ambulance was currently out on a run all the way up in Turquoise Ridge, so they told him to call the urgent-care clinic.
At twenty-one, Jake was the tribe’s most recent hire, and his utility belt was so new that the leather squeaked when he replaced the radio to the holster. He drew out his mobile phone and called his brother Kee. The eldest of the family, Kee had been recently certified in internal medicine—the first board-certified physician in many years. The phone rang five times and then flipped to voice mail. Jake left a message before disconnecting. There was always the chance that the clinic might still be open. If any of the women of his tribe had given birth last night, the maternity ward and nursery would be staffed. If not, they wouldn’t open until nine o’clock in the morning. Jake’s emotions warred with one another. He needed help. But there was a possibility that his help might be Lori Mott.
She’d come back last September shortly after the clinic opened and had done a very effective job of letting him know that bygones would not be bygones. She seemed mad at him, though he didn’t know why. Their one encounter had been consensual, though they had both been underage at the time. The resulting unplanned pregnancy was certainly both of their faults. He’d done the responsible thing. Everyone said so.
Jake blew out a breath and dialed the number.
Not her. Not her. Not her. He chanted the words in his head like a prayer hoping to will Lori from answering his call.
Lori worked at the clinic most days and nights as needed, along with Nina Kenton, Verna Dia and Burl Tsosie. Everyone was working long hours since the dam collapse. But even after all this time, speaking to her roiled up his emotions and made his stomach flip. The quicksilver attraction to Lori was still there, at least for him, but it was tempered by her obvious dislike of him. He didn’t understand it. Everybody liked him—everyone but Lori.
His heart rate increased as he clutched the mobile phone, scowling that his body reacted to just the possibility of speaking to her. How many times did a man have to stick his finger into a light socket before he figured out what would happen next?
Lori Mott’s familiar voice came through. His number would have displayed his name, giving her fair warning yet he was rattled at the control in her voice. His body flashed hot and cold, the desire that live just beneath his skin and the regret that clung to him like pine pitch.
His heart beat faster.
The surprise was gone from her voice, and her tone now held an edge of warning. “Jake.”
“Hi, Lori.” He felt as if his mouth were full of pebbles, and he couldn’t quite speak past them. Instead something like a gurgle emerged from his throat. He stared at the newborn lying in his truck bed and plunged on. “I found a baby, and the ambulance is out at Turquoise Ridge.”
“Possible heart attack,” she said. “They’re going to Darabee.”
She tied his stomach in knots quicker than a Boy Scout going for a merit badge. He could picture her, standing in those scrubs she always wore, with her long hair scraped back in a high ponytail for work. Often she wore no makeup. Not that she needed any.
“Did you say you found a baby?” she asked.
“Where? When?” Her voice took on a breathy air that made his skin tingle.
“Just now. Someone left it in the bed of my pickup.”
“Outside?” Her voice rang with alarm. “Is it breathing?”
“Is it cold?”
“I haven’t touched it.”
“Jake. For goodness’ sake, pick it up.”
He closed his eyes, recalling the last infant he had held, cold as marble and gray as a tombstone. He started sweating.
“I don’t know how to pick up a baby,” he said.
“I’m on my way. I’ll bring my kit. Is it a newborn?”
“It’s really small. Like the size of a doll. And wet.”
“Wet?” She told him how to pick it up. He lifted the infant and the red fleece all together, supporting the baby’s tiny head.
“It’s warm,” he said, juggling the phone as he cradled the newborn. “It’s got blood on it and some skin or something.”
“Take it inside. Wrap it up in something dry and wait for me. Did you call Child Protective Services?”
At her question, he recalled that his training included instructions to call the state agency, and that he had the number saved in his contacts on his phone.
“I’ll do it.” The phone went dead.
Jake held the still bundle and the phone. He glanced around one last time.
The morning chill seeped under his collar as he stood holding the infant before him like a live grenade. He thought he might be sick as past and present collided in his mind. Lori was coming. Sweet Lord, Lori was coming. He squeezed his eyes closed. The sound of movement made them flash open, and he turned toward the rustling.
“Is anyone there?”
Nothing moved but the little baby pressed against his chest.
Lori drove toward Koun’nde in the rising light before dawn. Burl had arrived quickly to relieve her, and so she was only a few minutes away from having to face Jake Redhorse. Since her return, she had mostly avoided him. It was infuriating how he could still make her tremble with just a smile. One thing was certain. She was not falling for his charm twice.
As she approached his home, the anxiety and determination rolled inside her like a familiar tide. If she had not been good enough for him then, she was now. Only now she didn’t want him, the jerk.
She’d learned what he really thought of her after the baby had come. Not from him of course. Oh, no. Mr. Wonderful would never insult a woman. He’d left that to everyone else.
Her face heated at the shame of it, still, always.
She pulled into the drive, wondering if she had the courage to make the walk to his front step. As it turned out, she didn’t have to. Jake hurled himself out the front door without his familiar white Stetson or uniform jacket and charged her driver’s side like a bull elk.
“Hurry,” he said.
Lori grabbed her tote and medical bag and followed as Jake reversed course and dashed back into his home. Lori ran, too, her medical bag thumping against her thigh as she cleared the door. Once inside she heard the angry squall of a newborn.
Jake stopped in the living room before a dirty red polar fleece, which sat beside a couch cushion on his carpet. On the wide cushion was a baby wrapped in a familiar fuzzy green knit blanket, its tiny face scrunched and its mouth open wide as it howled. Lori’s stride faltered. She knew that blanket because she had knit it herself from soft, mint-colored yarn. She glanced at Jake. Why had he kept it?
Jake pointed at the baby. “It’s turning purple.”
Excerpt SURROGATE ESCAPE ©2018 – Jenna Kernan