Wyoming Cold Case Secrets
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A decades-old mystery. An extensive cover-up.
This investigation could turn lethal.
When the search for her birth parents is met with a threat to leave town, Brynn Evans turns to private investigator Avery Thorpe—and leads armed assailants to his door. With no clue why she’s a target, Brynn and Avery rush to unfold her family’s secret…and to stay alive. But when the truth reveals a decades-long conspiracy, can they survive a killer’s plan to cover it up?
From Love Inspired Suspense: Courage. Danger. Faith.
Release date: March 28, 2023
Print pages: 224
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Wyoming Cold Case Secrets
The building before her looked more like a haunted mansion in a scary movie than a respectable adoption agency.
Brynn Evans shivered involuntarily, checking the address in her phone once again. It read 2475 North Pecan Street. This was definitely it, but any good feelings she had harbored about coming here had long since fled. Had her adoptive parents really come here two and a half decades ago to find and adopt her? She wished they were here now so that she could ask them.
She reminded herself that the building had probably aged a great deal since then. Tall, rounded turrets jutted up into the sky, ending in spike-like spires at either end of the building. She half expected to see a pair of gargoyles standing guard between them. Russet brick crumbled around intimidating stone steps, and grass that had gone far beyond a need for trimming wedged its way up through crevices in the concrete surrounding a walk-out basement. Windows encrusted with dust lined the lower edges of the structure and Brynn could almost imagine eyes trying to peer out of them from the musty old basement. The windows on the rest of the structure weren’t much cleaner, just a great deal larger and more forbidding. Very little light came through the ancient wood blinds, though dusk was falling on the quiet street around her.
She gathered her courage and made her way up the steps. She hadn’t come all this way to be intimidated by a creepy old house. A heavy oak door adorned with an ancient iron knocker stood sentry at the entrance. She eased the door open and stepped inside, a rush of damp and chilly air raising goose bumps on her arms. Brynn paused, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness inside the house.
A voice called out from behind a desk, hidden in the gloom.
“May I help you?”
A pair of wire-rimmed glasses framed overly large blue eyes, cold and unfriendly in their assessment of Brynn.
“Um. I hope so. I’m looking for my birth parents and information I found reported this as the agency where I was, uh, adopted. I’m looking for an employee here named Suzanne Davis. My adoptive mother mentioned she was the social worker who handled my adoption when I was an infant, but that’s all I could learn. I spoke to someone on the phone, but I was told they couldn’t speak to me about it. I thought maybe if I could come in and prove who I was...” Brynn felt like her voice was overly loud and cheery in the tomb-like atmosphere.
The receptionist frowned up at her from her desk chair. “There’s no one here that can help you. I suggest you give up your search and move on.”
She turned back to typing on a screen before her, obviously expecting Brynn to just leave.
She wasn’t giving up that easily, though. “Please. Is there anyone here who might know her? Do you possibly have old records that might help me? I’d really like to find my birth parents.”
The cold eyes returned to assess Brynn for a long, uncomfortable moment before the receptionist spoke again. “There’s something you should understand, miss. Some birth parents shouldn’t be found.”
Brynn fell back in surprise. There was such venom in the woman’s tone. What was that about? What had she done wrong?
“I don’t understand. You don’t even know who I am.” Brynn shook her head in consternation.
“I know who you are. It’s best if you leave, miss, and don’t come back. It’s best for everyone.” She pulled off her glasses and fixed her with a long stare.
Before Brynn could find the words to respond, the receptionist got up from her chair and made her way to the door. She opened it and stood glaring at Brynn until she walked blindly through it, gawking at the rude woman the whole time.
A heavy thud announced that the oak portal had closed firmly behind her. A gust of wind whipped her honey-blond hair around her face, and Brynn felt like something tangible was urging her away from this place.
Lord, why did You lead me here? She uttered the silent prayer but knew instinctively it wasn’t something that would be answered right away. She would have to be patient on this one. She stumbled back down the run-down steps.
It wasn’t as if she didn’t have a next step to her plan. Once she learned
she was adopted, Brynn had decided she might need to consult with someone to help her find her birth parents. She had learned that an old high school acquaintance worked in her former hometown as a private investigator. Her next move would be to get in touch with Avery Thorpe. Forget the fact that her heart pounded at the thought of seeing him again. He seemed the most likely person to help her. Besides, she had learned her lesson where matters of the heart were concerned. Her heart couldn’t be trusted to fall for the right sort of man, it seemed. Even if Avery Thorpe had always been the kind of guy dreams were made of.
As she pulled up the address to Avery’s offices on her phone, her thoughts returned to what had just happened at Cargill House. The woman had said she knew who she was. Was she the person Brynn had spoken to on the phone? Did she somehow recognize her otherwise?
Before she could ponder the thought further, a shadow fell across her path. She looked up but saw only a passerby meandering across the street.
She took a deep breath.
It was only a few more yards to her car, but she felt eyes on her, like someone was following her. Was the woman from the adoption agency coming after her to make sure she left? Had she come out through another entrance in the back of the house?
Brynn looked around her anxiously but kept walking, eyes moving and senses on the alert. Her thoughts spun about her like a whirlpool in a storm. What could she do now?
Pulling her phone out, she debated whom to call. The police would likely think she was just being overly suspicious. But she didn’t really have anyone else to call for help. She was still twenty miles from the town of Corduroy where she had once lived. Even so, it had been so long since she had lived there that she couldn’t really see herself calling anyone there now. She knew no one.
She had been barely sixteen when her adoptive parents, Stephanie and Blake Evans, had moved her to Greenville, Texas, for Blake to change jobs. He had died less than a few years later in a tragic car accident. Brynn had finished college and helped support herself and her mother with her teaching salary until Stephanie had passed away in March, leaving Brynn alone in the house they had all once lived in as a family. She had recently convinced her friend Tilley Watson, another teacher at West Bentley Street Junior High, to come be her roomie. They had connected as soon as Brynn started working there and had been close friends ever since.
And Tilley was the only person she had in the world right now. The only person who even knew where Brynn had gone.
Brynn slid behind the wheel of her little Mazda and locked the doors. If she could just get out of here, she could get to Corduroy. Avery would know what to do. She knew he would protect her, even if it had been years since she had seen him.
Maybe she should let him know she was coming. She searched up his number quickly and punched it in, thankful she had saved it w
hen she looked it up earlier. The cell phone was ringing through her Bluetooth system as she pulled out of the parking place. She kept her eyes moving, watching for anything suspicious.
The call went to his voice mail. Her heart pounded like a schoolgirl’s as she heard his voice asking her to leave him a message.
“Hi, Avery. This is Brynn Evans. I know it’s been a long time, but I was hoping I might be able to enlist your help. I wondered if I could come by your office and speak to you. Today, if that’s possible.”
She left her phone number and disconnected. She had hoped for confirmation that he was there.
Brynn immediately began to fear his reaction. What if he read more into her request for help than a simple business arrangement? It wouldn’t be the first time her naivete had gotten her into a scrape. She was often too trusting, and it landed her in a mess with men who had less than honorable intentions. Brynn had learned that too harshly recently with a man she had believed to be genuinely interested in a future with her.
He had turned out to be hiding a wedding ring.
Of course, unless he had changed a great deal since she last knew him, she couldn’t imagine Avery Thorpe being anything but trustworthy.
Brynn followed the directions from her GPS because it had been a few years since she had been in this area. She had an aunt who still lived nearby, but Aunt Martha usually came to Texas to visit. Once her parents passed, the ties had weakened a little more as well. She made a mental note to visit Aunt Martha before leaving town.
A dark vehicle in her rearview mirror eased closer, and Brynn eyed it warily. Where did that car come from? Was she being followed?
The driver kept enough distance between them that Brynn couldn’t make out any features. To be sure, she sped up a bit.
The car stayed with her.
Her pulse kicked up a notch. Unsure of what to do, she uttered a quick prayer. Lord, get me safely to help.
Brynn kept up a steady speed, watching the car and praying it would turn off somewhere. It didn’t.
When her phone rang through the Bluetooth system, she answered it a bit too loudly.
Tilley spoke through the line. “Hey, Brynn. Did you make it to Wyoming?”
“Um, yes. I’m here. I’m on my way to Avery Thorpe’s office.” She could hear the tremor in her voice.
Tilley noticed right away. “Is everything okay?”
“I’m not sure. I think I’m being followed. The woman at the adoption agency was...odd.” Brynn thought the car was coming closer, though still not near enough to see well.
“What do you mean?” Her friend sounded concerned.
“She practically kicked me out. Said some birth parents shouldn’t be found, or some such remark. I don’t know why she would have me followed
Tilley was quiet for a moment. “Maybe she just wanted to make sure you left town?”
But she didn’t sound convinced. Brynn wasn’t, either. “Maybe. I’m glad you’re on the line, though. It’s still a ways to Avery’s office. It will help to have someone to talk to.”
“Isn’t it convenient that the dreamy Avery Thorpe is a private investigator. Just the person to help you.” Tilley teased. She had heard about Brynn’s schoolgirl crush on Avery many times.
“Oh, come on, Till. He never looked my way. Why would he be interested now?”
“Things change, you know. And at least you’re giving him the opportunity to get to know you. It might work out.” Tilley’s voice held the thrill of hope for a friend.
Brynn verbally waved it off with a sigh. “Not gonna happen.”
Tilley let it go. She questioned Brynn about the details of her encounter at the adoption agency. Brynn thought she was just making conversation to help her stay calm rather than being seriously interested in some of the fine details.
It seemed ages before she pulled into the little Western town of Corduroy. When she did, she breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m here, Till. I am about to park in front of Avery’s office and go inside. I’ll call you when I leave.”
Tilley agreed and Brynn disconnected. As she put her car in Park, she watched the dark sedan that had been behind her the whole way cruise on by. She hoped they were headed out of town.
Taking her purse, she closed the car door and stepped onto the sidewalk that ran the length of the street. An old building had been carefully restored to city code stood before her, and just as she had hoped, Avery’s name graced the sign. She couldn’t help wondering how a private investigator could make a living out here. It was a pretty small town.
The street was quiet also, and her platform tennis shoes sounded loud against the pavement as she got out of her car. Another car hushed past on the way through downtown, but no one was out on the sidewalk.
She stood next to her car for a moment, shivering at the feeling of aloneness she had out here. Maybe it was just because of the events of the past hour or so.
Locking the doors, Brynn turned away to see the lights of her Mazda flicker in the window reflections when something else in the reflection caught her eye.
Someone lunged toward her. Her feet responded almost immediately. She was tearing away from him before she realized the door to the building in front of her had opened and someone had stepped out.
Brynn had barely realized she was no longer being chased when it registered that the man was now on the receiving end of pursuit. The hooded figure in a dark blue sweatshirt was fleeing down the sidewalk, running in the opposite direction, and chased by the man who’d come out of the building.
Brynn slowed and breathed a sigh of relief. She reached for her phone, intending to dial
911. She didn’t know who her rescuer was, but she was sure he would want some help.
She was about to press the call button and step into the building she had originally intended to enter when Brynn realized something that made her pause in astonishment.
The man dashing off after her would-be attacker was none other than Avery Thorpe.
This guy didn’t know what he had just stepped into. Avery Thorpe was not about to stand by and let some bully terrorize a woman in his presence. As soon as he had seen the stark fear on her face through the window of his office, he had known something was going on. When the man had reached toward her, it had only proven his suspicions. It had already been a trying day, so the man was going to be in for a fight. The court case he had been working on had not gone as expected and he was going to have to change tactics on his investigation.
After bolting out of his office and startling the attacker away from the woman, Avery began chasing him in the opposite direction. Avery picked up his pace, sprinting hard as he rounded the corner where he had last seen the man. He slowed for a moment, then, scanning the area for the threat. The unknown figure ducked into an alley out of sight. He ran after him, but by the time he rounded the corner into the alley, the figure was disappearing out the other end.
Avery followed, gaining on the guy with every step. More than anything, he wished he had his Glock on his hip. He had been on the police force in Cheyenne for a few years, trying to make detective. He had worked his way up quickly but being a detective with the police force hadn’t satisfied him. Working for the state as an investigator had been more fulfilling, but he wasn’t there long before making enemies with the wrong woman.
That was when he’d decided to go into the private sector. Selena had taught him how to dig up the dirt on people. He just sincerely wished he had investigated her before falling for her.
But this guy... It was like a throwback to his days on the force. Avery ran after him almost gleefully, gaining ground and yelling at him to stop.
However, when the guy circled around and moved back to where they had started, Avery got a little aggravated. What kind of stunt was he trying to pull?
The woman was still standing near a silver Mazda coupe parked on the street. Why hadn’t she gone inside yet, away from the threat? He suddenly understood the man’s intentions.
The man was trying to go back and finish the job.
The woman was looking down at her phone from next to her car, and the man took advantage of her inattention. He raised a gun from his hip and fired. The glass of her car windshield shattered next to her head. The shot had narrowly missed her. She shrieked and dropped the phone, running for the cover of the building.
Avery was going to have
to take a chance.
He dove toward the man, gaining speed just before jumping onto his back. He grasped the other man’s gun hand first, trying to wrest it from the short, beefy fingers.
The man spun, trying to dislodge Avery from his back and still hold on to the weapon. But Avery had a fierce grip, and the man grew frustrated from his prolonged efforts. He squeezed the trigger and a shot fired, this time going up into the air. Avery clutched at the man’s arm, but then he spun again, throwing him off-balance.
Finally, with a jerk, the man launched backward into the exterior wall of a nearby building. Avery tried to force his head forward, but the back of his scalp still made impact. His head spun and he lost his grip.
The man turned as Avery slid to the ground, raising the gun toward him. He grinned beneath the shadow of the hood shrouding his face.
Before he could squeeze the trigger, Avery swept an arm out and knocked one ankle out from under the man, sending him sprawling. He lost the gun and tried to crawl his way over to it. Before he could grasp it, Avery grabbed his ankle, preventing his advancement.
Just then, a patron emerged from an attorney’s office on the sidewalk opposite Avery and the attacker. “Hey! What’s going on here!”
The gunman looked over his shoulder, letting out an expletive. He snatched up the gun and bounded to his feet. As he turned away from Avery, his hood tumbled from his head, revealing dark hair, but he scooped it back up as he took off from the crime scene.
“Call the police!” Avery called out to the man, who plucked his phone from his pocket immediately. Avery launched himself after the attacker once more, but his slightly woozy state made it tougher to keep up with him this time. ...
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