Buried Truth (Love Inspired Suspense)

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9780373444540: Buried Truth (Love Inspired Suspense)
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"Coming for you."

A note, impaled by a knife on Bill Cloudman's door, tells the former tribal agent a murderer has escaped. The vicious madman who murdered Bill's partner—and cost Bill the community's trust and his job—is on the loose in the South Dakota badlands again. Bill vows to put him behind bars once and for all. But when the woman he loved and lost returns to Eagle Rock reservation as a newspaper reporter determined to restore her own reputation with the story, Bill has to protect her...and his guarded heart.

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About the Author:

Dana Mentink is a national bestselling author. She has been honored to win two Carol Awards, a Holt Medallion, and a Reviewer's Choice award. She's authored more than thirty novels to date for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense and Harlequin Heartwarming. Dana loves feedback from her readers. Contact her at www.danamentink.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The heat shimmered up from the asphalt as Bill Cloudman drove the pickup, Tank barking enthusiastically in the back. It had taken eight months away from Rockvale for him to realize he'd actually missed the ferocious heat. After two days back home, he felt as if he'd never left. This small town, snuggled up next to the Eagle Rock reservation, was undeniably a part of him, as much as he'd tried to escape it. He eased off the road that led away from his aunt Jean's dilapidated trailer, deep in reservation territory.

Aunt Jean was the reason he'd returned, her nasty fall the only thing that could draw him back to this place filled with bitter memories. Thankfully, she was recovering well, already back in her trailer making every guest feel welcome. Sharing a glass of iced tea and listening to her chatter had taken his mind off the past for a little while. Even though she was not his aunt by blood, he never thought of her as anything else. With her, he could pretend things were fine, that his sister, Leanne, was alive and they were a family, that his partner, Johnny Moon, hadn't been murdered.

That game got him only so far. Leanne was dead. Johnny was dead. No amount of wishing would bring them back again. His tension increased as he drove away, losing himself in acres of sunbaked trees and dry grass that surrounded him.

He breathed deeply as he drove the five miles to the small home he'd left in the months following his partner's death. It was remote, far from the nearest reservation neighbor, and he liked it like that. Working as a Tribal Ranger, one of twelve officers who protected life and property on the reservation and surrounding areas, he'd appreciated the distance sometimes, the quiet. It had been a sanctuary—until Johnny was killed. Then everywhere he looked he saw friends and neighbors who knew how he'd let his partner die. Bill had packed his bags and resolved never to come back—and he hadn't, until Aunt Jean had her fall.

Bill exhaled slowly, trying to quell a sudden feeling of unease. The tingle of alarm grew stronger even before he crested the last ridge and his house came in sight. There was an unfamiliar tang in the air, an odor that caused Tank to growl as they crunched up the winding driveway.

Wrong.

Something was wrong.

He eased the truck to a stop, breath tight in his chest.

He got out and ordered Tank to stay. The dog barked his displeasure, but obeyed.

Broken glass littered the ground, blazing in the sunlight. All the front windows were fractured into bits except for sharp teeth of glass that remained stubbornly in the frames.

Vandals with nothing better to do. Teens, he told himself. Who else would cause such destruction?

Who else?

Muscles tight, he moved closer. A bucket of crimson paint had been thrown at the walls. It stained the stucco like the red spurt of blood. Angry, hateful.

The note was impaled to the wall by the blade of a knife, plunged to the hilt into the wood.

Coming for you.

It needed no signature.

Oscar Birch's rage seeped through the scrawled letters.

Oscar, the man he had imprisoned.

The man who murdered his partner.

He didn't know how Oscar had wrecked his place when the man was supposed to be in jail, but he might as well have signed his name in the vicious smears of paint.

Paint that was still wet.

"You're not welcome here."

Bill Cloudman knew it, felt it, long before he found himself on Charlie Moon's gritty doormat two hours later. It had taken that long for his former colleagues to finish their investigation at his home and pass the information on to federal authorities. They told him the brutal truth with as much compassion as they could muster.

Oscar Birch had escaped.

The officers would try their best, but Bill knew with sickening certainty they would not capture the fugitive. Oscar was smart and wily and desired only one thing—Bill's death. Oscar wouldn't be captured or contained until he got what he was after.

Bill tried to focus on the hostile face of Johnny's uncle. "I came to warn you."

Charlie grunted. "Then you did what you set out to do."

Bill suddenly felt every one of his forty–five years weighing him down as he stood on the front porch of the small house, the South Dakota sun scorching through him with unrelenting fire. "And I wanted to see how you were doing. And Tina."

Charlie Moon raised a grizzled eyebrow. "Since you let her brother die? "

Bill exhaled. The words weren't unexpected, but they cut deep anyway. "I loved Johnny like a son, you know that."

"I don't know any such thing. I only know you were my nephew's senior officer. You were supposed to take care of him, watch his back." Charlie shook his head. "He was so proud when he joined the Tribal Rangers. So proud to work for you."

"I trained him the best way I knew how." Bill felt the surge of frustration that caused his voice to edge up a notch. With an effort, he kept it level. "It was a bust gone bad. Oscar knew we were coming."

Charlie's calloused fingers gripped the door frame, the pressure turning his knuckles white through the natural tan of his skin. "Words. Just words. Johnny went in first, a nineteen–year–old rookie—he went in first and got blown up. Can you tell me any of that ain't true?"

Bill looked at the red dust coating his boots. "No."

"And can you stand there and say to me it wasn't your fault? You've been a Tribal Ranger for what? Twenty years? And a rookie walks in after a fugitive first, without waiting for a backup team? That how it's supposed to go, Bill?"

He could not answer against the thickening of his throat.

Charlie looked at him, lips in a tight line. "If you came back to Rockvale for forgiveness, you're not going to find it here. Not with me. Maybe not from anybody."

A six–year–old girl with a thick braid of black hair peeked past Charlie. "Hiya, Uncle Bill. Have you come back?"

Bill knelt and blinked back an unexpected wash of tears. "Hey there, Tina. I've missed you."

"Me, too," she said. "I got the birthday card you sent and I put the stickers on my lunch box. Where's your dog?"

He nodded toward the massive rottweiler watching their every move from the back of the truck. "Right over there."

"Can I play with him? I want to see if he's learned to fetch."

Bill was about to answer when Charlie pulled the girl back.

"Mr. Cloudman is not your uncle and he's leaving now. He can't play with you anymore."

Tina shot her uncle a puzzled look. "Never? "

Charlie nodded grimly. "Never."

"Is it 'cuz Johnny went to heaven?"

Charlie patted her shoulder. "We'll talk about it later. Go back to your room and put your books in order."

"But Uncle—"

"Go," Charlie said, voice hard.

Tina's face was puzzled as she wiggled her fingers at Bill before she disappeared into the house.

Bill straightened. "Is she...how is she doing?"

"Better than you'd think for someone who lost her mother to cancer and her big brother to murder. 'Course, Johnny was more like her father, him being so much older and since her father took off before she was born. So all she's got left is her old uncle Charlie and this piece of wasteland." He gestured to the horizon, harsh cliffs painted against the setting sun. "How's that gonna get her any kind of future?"

Images of a previous sunset flashed through Bill's brain. The explosion, the ferocious hatred of the man bent on killing them. The ease with which Oscar Birch had been able to murder Bill's partner. And now the murderer was back with a different target in his sights. Bill looked up to find Charlie staring at him.

"Heard you helped bust Oscar's son near the Badlands."

"Yeah." He'd gone to assist his friend Logan to keep Oscar's son, Autie, from killing a woman named Isabel Ling. They'd gotten Autie, all right, and remanded him into custody. In the process Logan had found his soul mate in the strong–willed Isabel. At least there was a silver lining—for Logan anyway. The guy deserved it. Charlie's voice intruded on Bill's thoughts.

"Heard Oscar's son died."

"Yes." Autie had finally run out of luck. He'd made a break for it on his way to prison and been felled by a volley of police fire. Bill had felt nothing when he heard, no grief, no satisfaction; just the same numbness that had taken hold of him since the afternoon Johnny Moon was killed. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and let his gaze wander to his boots again.

Charlie's laugh was harsh. "That's justice, I guess. Oscar killed Johnny. You killed his kid. Now he knows something about my pain."

Though Bill said nothing, he knew Charlie was wrong, dead wrong. Oscar was filled with hate and anger that sizzled hotter than the Dakota desert, an incendiary rage that would not be satisfied or dulled by grief. And he was here. He might even be watching right now. Bill felt a chill in spite of the heat.

A bark from the bed of the truck pulled Bill from his thoughts. He noticed the curtain move in the front window of the small house. Tina was still watching. He tried to make his expression more pleasant. "Anyway, I thought you should know Oscar's escaped."

The old man wiped a hand over his mouth. "Listen, I got enough problems. Not my job to help you catch him again."

"I wasn't asking for your help. I'm not a Tribal Ranger anymore. I just wanted to tell you and see if you or Tina needed anything."

"She needs her big brother, but you can't give her that, can you?"

The door swung shut, the sharp click loud in the stifling air.

Bill put his palm to the wood, warm from the late afternoon heat. If I could have that minute back, Joh...

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9780373674756: Buried Truth (Larger Print Love Inspired Suspense)

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ISBN 10:  0373674759 ISBN 13:  9780373674756
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