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Authors: Barbara Freethy

Tags: #Contemporary

Silent Fall

Praise for the novels of Barbara Freethy

Silent Run

"If you love nail-biting suspense and heartbreaking emotion,
Silent Run
belongs at the top of your to-be-bought list. Barbara Freethy writes romantic suspense that delivers on all counts—a terrific love story and suspense that begins to build on the first page and doesn't let up until the last." —Mariah Stewart

Played

"An exciting page-turner.... This top-notch author delivers top-notch thrills." —
Romantic Times
(4
1
⁄2 stars)

"The characters are very well developed, and reading this story was almost like going on one of those spooky rides as a kid: You expect something to happen, you think you know where it will occur, and then something jumps out at you from an unexpected area." —
Mystery News

Taken

"Terrific and twisty intrigue makes this novel choice reading.... An amazingly gripping, fascinating mystery!" —
Romantic Times
(4
1
⁄2 stars)

"Another crowd-pleasing page-turner in the first of a tricky romantic suspense series." —
Publishers Weekly

"Romance sizzles between the wary protagonists in this riveting page-turner." —
Library Journal

Don't Say a Word

"Barbara Freethy at her best!" —Carla Neggers, author of
Dark Sky

"
Don't Say a Word
has made me a Barbara Freethy fan for life!" —Diane Chamberlain, author of
The Bay at Midnight

"Dark, hidden secrets and stunning betrayal . . . potent and moving suspense. Freethy's storytelling ability is top-notch." —
Romantic Times
(4
1
⁄2 stars)

"Guaranteed to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Very highly recommended."—Romance Reviews Today

All She Ever Wanted

"A haunting mystery . . . I couldn't put it down." —Luanne Rice

"A suitably eerie atmosphere." —
Publishers Weekly

"A gripping tale of romantic suspense.... Barbara Freethy is a master storyteller." —Romance Reviews Today

"Sizzling.... Freethy's expertly penned novel is a true page-turner." —
Romantic Times

Golden Lies

"An absolute treasure, a fabulous, page-turning combination of romance and intrigue. Fans of Nora Roberts and Elizabeth Lowell will love
Golden Lies.
" —Kristin Hannah

"A rich and compelling tale." —
Library Journal

Summer Secrets

"Barbara Freethy writes with bright assurance, exploring the bonds of sisterhood and the excitement of blue-water sailing.
Summer Secrets
is a lovely novel." —Luanne Rice

"Freethy skillfully keeps the reader on the hook, and her tantalizing and believable tale has it all—romance, adventure, and mystery." —
Booklist
(starred review)

"An intriguing, multithreaded plot, this is an emotionally involving story . . . sure to please Freethy's growing fan base.... Like Kristin Hannah's novels, [it] neatly bridges the gap between romance and traditional women's fiction." —
Library Journal

Further praise for Barbara Freethy

"In the tradition of LaVyrle Spencer, gifted author Barbara Freethy creates an irresistible tale of family secrets, riveting adventure, and heart-touching romance." —Susan Wiggs

"A fresh and exciting voice in women's romantic fiction." —Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Superlative." —Debbie Macomber

"Barbara Freethy delivers strong and compelling prose." —
Publishers Weekly

"If there is one author who knows how to deliver vivid stories that tug on your emotions, it's Barbara Freethy." —
Romantic Times

Other Novels by Barbara Freethy

Summer Secrets

Golden Lies

All She Ever Wanted

Don't Say a Word

Taken

Played

Silent Run

ONYX Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Onyx, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Barbara Freethy, 2008 All rights reserved

registered trademark—marca registrada

ISBN: 1-4362-0401-1

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

publisher's note

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many thanks go to my brainstorming pals Candice Hern, Tracy Grant, Carol Culver, Monica McCarty, Jami Alden, Bella Andre, Anne Mallory, Kate Moore, Barbara McMahon, Lynn Hanna, and Diana Dempsey, who are always up for lunch, chocolate, Starbucks, and a good story idea. Thanks also go to my fabulous agents, Andrea Cirillo and Annelise Robey, and everyone at the Jane Rotrosen Agency, who help with all the big and small details. And thanks to Ellen Edwards and NAL for doing such a terrific job editing and publishing my books. And last but not least, thanks to the Fog City Divas and the hottest blog on the Net at www.fogcitydivas.com. For more information on my books, visit my Web site at www.barbarafreethy.com.

Prologue

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

She was going to die. The terrifying thought made her stumble, her spiked heel catching in a crack in the pavement. She fell forward, breaking her fall with her hands. Tiny pebbles of cement burned into her palms and her knees. For a moment she was tempted to quit. She was so cold and so tired, but if she stopped now he'd catch her, and there would be no tomorrow, no second chance.

Forcing herself back to her feet, she pulled off her broken shoes and headed deeper into the park. The grass was wet beneath her feet, the midnight fingers of fog covering everything within reach with a damp mist. Her hair curled around her face as the wet spray mixed with the tears streaking down her cheeks.

She'd never been a crier, but this was too much. She'd never felt so alone or in such mortal danger.

Everywhere she turned, he followed. She couldn't seem to get away. How did he keep finding her?

Even now she could hear the footsteps behind her, the crack of twigs, the sound of a distant car. Was it him?

She probably should have stayed on the city streets, but she'd thought the tall trees and the thick bushes of the park would offer her protection, a place to hide. Now she realized how desolate the area was at night. There were no phone booths, no people, no businesses to run into. She was completely on her own.

She gasped and stopped abruptly as a shadowy figure came out of the undergrowth. Her heart thudded against her chest. The man walked toward her, one hand outstretched. His clothes were old and torn, and his face was covered with a heavy beard. He wore a baseball cap, and a backpack was slung over one shoulder. He was probably one of the homeless people who set up camp in the park at night. Or maybe not . . .

"Hey, baby, give me a kiss," he said in a drunken slur.

"Leave me alone." She put up a hand to ward him off, but he kept moving forward.

"I'm just being friendly. Come on now, sweetheart."

Turning, she ran as fast as she could in the other direction, hearing him call after her. She didn't know if he was following her or not, and she was too terrified to look, so she left the sidewalk and moved deeper into the park, looking for a little corner in which to hide. Her side was cramping and her feet were soaked. She desperately needed to find some sanctuary. Branches scraped her bare arms and face, but she kept going. It was so dark in the heavy brush that she could barely see a foot in front of her. Tall trees and fog had completely obliterated the moonlight.

Fortunately she had her hand out in front of her when she ran into a cement wall that rose several stories in the air. She must have hit the side of one of the park buildings. Pausing, she caught her breath and listened. She could hear nothing but her own ragged breathing. Maybe she was safe, at least for the moment.

Leaning back against the cold cement, she pondered her next move, but she didn't know what to do, how to escape. She was out of options.

How had she come to this? Running for her life and all alone? This was not how it was supposed to go. This was Dylan's fault. He'd put her in this situation, and dammit, where the hell was he?

But she couldn't count on him to rescue her. She had to find a way out on her own. She couldn't let things end like this. She'd fought for her life before, and she'd won. She would do it again.

Her heart stopped as a nearby branch snapped in two. A confident male whistle pierced the silent night. Whoever was coming didn't care if she heard him or not. The bushes in front of her slowly parted. Terror ran through her body. There was nowhere left to run.

Chapter 1

Two days earlier Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Dylan Sanders took a shot of Jack Daniels from the bartender, enjoying the burn as the liquor slid down his throat. After draining the glass, he immediately ordered another. He didn't like weddings and usually avoided them at all costs, but this one he hadn't been able to miss, because he was the best man. He was thankful that he'd finished his formal duties. He just had to get through the next hour before he could call it a night.

Glancing across the room, he watched his brother, Jake, and Jake's bride, Sarah, share their first dance on the back deck of the Woodlake Mountain Lodge. In the glow of candlelight and against the backdrop of the purple-blue twilight sky, they looked exceedingly happy, as if the past year hadn't tested their love in every possible way. But they'd come through the bad times. From here on out, it would be nothing but smooth sailing—at least he hoped so. He smiled as one of Sarah's friends brought his niece, Caitlyn, to the dance floor. Jake's eighteen-month-old blond angel was the hit of the wedding, but as usual she wanted to be part of the action. Jake swung his baby daughter into his arms, and the three of them danced together like the family they were.

Dylan tossed another shot down his throat, pushing back the ridiculous thought that he was jealous of their happiness. While he loved his brother, he did not yearn for marriage and a family of his own. He'd grown up in a broken home, and he didn't intend to repeat the experience. Although he hoped Jake and Sarah would make it, that they would beat the odds of divorce and that they would never fall out of love the way his own parents had.

A cool evening breeze blew through the open patio doors, drawing goose bumps down his arms, but it wasn't the wind that had put his nerves on edge. It was the beautiful redhead who slid onto the bar stool next to him.

"Are you drinking to your brother's happiness or to the demise of yet another bachelor?" Catherine Hilliard asked.

Dylan set his glass on the bar. Catherine had cleaned up pretty well since their first meeting two months earlier, when she'd helped him find Sarah. There were no paint spatters on Catherine's clothes today, and she'd covered her bare feet in a pair of high heels. She wore a gorgeous, sexy black dress with a low-cut halter top that showed off her beautiful breasts. He loved the way the freckles danced across her chest. He had the sudden urge to see if she had freckles all over her body.

He tugged on his tie, feeling tightness in his chest at the very bad ideas flooding his brain. Catherine was an old friend of his new sister-in-law, and as such was off-limits, not to mention the fact that she was more than a little quirky, with her passion for painting gruesome pictures and her claim that she was psychic. But despite her eccentricities, Catherine had a big heart and a fierce loyalty to her friends, which he found far too appealing.

"Hello," Catherine said pointedly. "You're staring."

"You're stunning," he replied, unable to stop the words from crossing his lips.

She gave him a quick smile. "That's a good start to the conversation. The wedding was lovely, didn't you think? Jake and Sarah make a good match. I think they have a chance."

"A chance, huh? That's an enthusiastic endorsement," he said dryly, hearing the same note of cynicism that echoed through his own head.

Catherine shrugged. "I haven't seen a lot of happy marriages in my time, but if anyone can make it, they can."

"So, how have you been? Painting a lot?"

"Every night. I even painted you. It's been quite a challenge."

He raised an eyebrow. "No kidding? Do I want to see it?"

Her smile widened. "Maybe I'll show you sometime."

"I don't get down the coast much." Catherine lived in San Luis Obispo, three hours away from his apartment in San Francisco, which provided a nice buffer zone. He had to admit she'd crossed his mind more than once in the past six weeks, but fortunately he had been busy with his work as an investigative reporter for KTSF Television News in San Francisco.

Catherine accepted a glass of champagne from the bartender. "I brought the painting with me. I wanted to work on it some more. I'm staying here at the lodge for a few days. I figured with a Friday-night wedding, it was only fitting that I get a weekend retreat in the woods."

"Who's watching your menagerie of pets?" he asked. "I can't imagine you leaving them alone." Catherine shared her home with two cats, two dogs, and a very annoying and talkative bird. In some ways he envied her little zoo. He'd never been allowed to have a pet growing up, and watching her with her golden retrievers on the beach behind her house had made him feel like he'd missed out. Of course, he'd missed out on a lot of things besides having a pet. That had been the least of his problems.

"My neighbor, Lois, watches them when I'm gone. I will miss them, but the mountains are beautiful, and I haven't been away on my own for a while. Besides, the lake has a peacefulness about it, a depth and a secrecy that appeal to me. I want to soak it all in for a few days."

Dylan didn't see the lake the way she did, but he had always enjoyed Tahoe. For years he and Jake had come to the lake with friends or family members to escape the overbearing presence of their father, who luckily never left the city. Dylan wasn't surprised Jake had wanted to get married here. It was a good start to his new life, although Jake and Sarah wouldn't be staying long. They were taking a late-night flight to Hawaii to begin their honeymoon.

"What about you?" Catherine asked, interrupting his thoughts. "Are you staying through the weekend?"

"I leave in the morning."

"Are you sure?"

His gaze narrowed. "What does that mean?"

Her dark blue eyes grew mysterious. "Do you remember what I told you about the two women entering your life, one bringing danger, the other salvation? I think it starts here."

"What starts here?" he began, and then quickly backtracked. "You know what? I don't want to know. I don't believe in your psychic visions. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is."

"I understand," she said, raising her glass to her lips.

He didn't like the look in her eyes. He told himself to forget what she'd said. She was just trying to yank his chain.

Someone took the seat on the other side of him. A waft of familiar perfume made his head turn. The brunette gave him a big smile. Damn, he was in trouble.

Catherine leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Be careful, Dylan. She's one of them."

"Who's the other one?" he asked as she got up and walked away. Catherine didn't reply. He had a feeling he already knew the answer. But it didn't matter. He wouldn't let her crazy words rattle him. His life was going great, and he didn't intend to let anything or anyone change that.

"We need to talk, Dylan."

Dylan turned his head and stared into the bright brown eyes of a woman he'd never thought he'd see again, Erica Layton. Six weeks earlier they'd shared a night—a rather drunken night, and one he preferred to forget. He didn't usually sleep with his sources, and he shouldn't have slept with Erica, but a late-night celebration had somehow landed him in bed with her. And now she was here with an expectant expression on her face. This couldn't be good, and he didn't need a psychic to tell him that.

Erica handed him a glass of champagne.

"What's this?" he asked.

"We're celebrating your brother's wedding. Cheers." Erica tipped her glass to his.

He reluctantly took a sip. "What are you doing here? You weren't on the guest list."

"I've been calling you for the past two weeks, but you haven't returned my calls," she complained.

"I was busy."

"You weren't too busy for me when you needed my help."

He sighed at the sharp tone in her voice. "I appreciate all the help you gave me, Erica, but if you were looking for something more, it's not going to happen." He was surprised that he even had to tell her that. Their one encounter had been mutually satisfying, but certainly not the beginning of a relationship. And Erica had understood that. He would have sworn she'd understood. He never got involved with women who didn't know the score.

Erica frowned, and her face went from pretty and edgy to hard and brittle. There was a wild gleam in her eyes that made him uneasy. Was she on something?

"We need to talk," she repeated.

His gut twisted at the purpose in her words. A quick mental calculation reminded him that when a woman you'd slept with six weeks earlier suddenly wanted to talk, there was a good chance it had something to do with a baby. But they'd used protection. He'd been stupid to sleep with her, but he hadn't been completely careless. Still, his niece, Caitlyn, was a prime example that condoms didn't always work. He gulped down another swallow of his champagne.

He did not want to have this conversation now. His career was flying. He'd just broken one of the biggest stories of his life. He was on the fast track to success. Everything was going as planned. The last thing he needed was a complication—a baby. His glance drifted down Erica's body. She looked as thin as ever in a short red cocktail dress that was now hitched up to midthigh. Her legs were bare, her skin tan, her feet strapped into a pair of red stilettos. A sheer red scarf was draped around her shoulders. She didn't look pregnant, but if she was, he might as well face it head-on.

"All right, talk," he ordered, never one to shy away from a problem. Whatever it was, he'd deal with it.

Erica hesitated, her gaze darting around the room. "Not here. It's too crowded. Take a walk with me."

He didn't want to go anywhere with her, but he also didn't want to have a private conversation in a public place. Nor did he want to worry his brother or upset the wedding reception by getting into what could be a volatile conversation with Erica. She wasn't exactly the calmest, most reasonable woman he'd ever met. Even now her fingers tapped nervously on the top of the bar, and she kept glancing around as if she were afraid someone was watching her, watching them.

Maybe he was off base. Maybe this wasn't personal. Erica had a way of getting herself into trouble without really trying. He'd learned that about her when she'd helped him link a state senator to murder. He owed her for that. The least he could do was listen to her now.

"Does this have to do with Senator Ravino?" he asked, lowering his voice.

She licked her lips. "Of course not. He's in jail, awaiting trial."

"I know, and you helped me and the police put him there. Has he tried to contact you? Are you feeling threatened in some way?"

"The police say I'm in no danger, but I know the senator better than anyone. He has a lot of connections outside prison."

"What do you need from me?"

"I need to talk to you," she said, sounding desperate. She slid off her stool. "Are you coming?"

"All right." He finished the rest of the champagne and stood up.

"There's a path we can take," Erica said as they walked out of the bar and through the lobby of the lodge. "It winds along the mountain, and there's a spectacular view of the lake."

"How do you know that?"

"I got here earlier. I had a chance to explore." She gave him a look he couldn't decipher and then led him out a side door.

Nestled in the High Sierras and surrounded by tall ponderosa pines, the Woodlake Mountain Lodge was perched on a steep hillside overlooking the glistening waters of Lake Tahoe. Adjoining the main building of the lodge were a dozen small, rustic cabins.

"That's my cabin over there." Erica pointed to a nearby building. "I didn't want to drive down the mountain after dark, so I got a room. Are you in the main lodge?"

"Yes. Why did you come here, Erica? You could have contacted me in San Francisco. You know where I live." It didn't make sense to him that she would have come all the way to Tahoe to talk to him.

"Let's go this way," she said, taking a path to the right. "I knew I would have to surprise you, or you'd find an excuse to avoid me."

"You should have waited until after my brother's wedding. This is a big day for him."

"You don't care about weddings, Dylan."

"When they involve my brother, I do."

She rolled her eyes. "Right," she said, a cynical note in her voice.

Dylan stopped abruptly, losing patience. "Look, whatever you have to say, just say it. It's getting dark, and I don't feel like getting lost in the woods with you."

"Let's walk to the end of the path. There's a bench. We can sit." She proceeded without waiting for him to answer.

The cement walkway was lined with small lights every ten feet or so, but as the path turned into dirt the lights disappeared and dark shadows surrounded them. He tried to call out to Erica to stop, but she was moving at a good clip, and his tongue felt thick in his head. He must have had more to drink than he'd realized.

Where the hell was the bench Erica wanted to reach? His legs felt strangely fatigued, and the scenery began to spin in front of his eyes. It took everything he had to put one foot in front of the other. What was wrong? A sick, queasy feeling swept through him. He stumbled and almost fell, but he caught himself at the last minute. He put his hand on the trunk of a nearby tree to steady himself.

"Erica," he mumbled, forcing the word out.

She turned to stare back at him, but she made no move to come to his side.

"Help me." He tried to lift his arm, but it was too heavy.

"This is your fault, Dylan," she said. "I had no choice. I had nowhere else to turn."

No choice? What was she talking about?

"It always comes down to every man for himself. You said so yourself, Dylan. Now it's my turn to look out for me."

She took a few steps backward. She was getting awfully close to the edge of a very steep cliff. He wanted to warn her to stay back, but he couldn't get the words out. The landscape took another wild spin.

She'd drugged him, he realized, suddenly remembering the overly sweet taste of the champagne. Why? What the hell did she want? Before he could ask her, his legs gave way and the world went black.

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