Powered by DitDat

Gone Missing

Sonoma series, book #6

(Love Inspired Suspense, May 2015)

This is the sixth book in my romantic suspense Sonoma series (although each book is stand-alone). This story stars Joslyn Dimalanta, whom readers met in my book Treacherous Intent.


As a skip tracer in training, Joslyn Dimalanta knows she has the skills to track down her missing friend. As long as her friend's startlingly handsome brother, Clay Ashton, doesn't distract her. But then his sister's house detonates—almost killing Clay and Joslyn. Now they realize the harsh reality: they must either find the person after Clay's sister, or face deadly consequences. And the closer the get to exposing the source of the crimes, the more explosive surprises they discover. With every obstacle they overcome, Joslyn finds herself relying on Clay more and more. Still, the peril they face scares her less than the idea of trusting Clay with her wounded heart.

Buy eBook

Extended excerpt

The man had danger written all over him.

Or maybe that was just Joslyn’s perception because of the way his powerful body moved with that athletic grace of a man confident in his physical strength, and the grim cast to his mouth. His blue-gray eyes found hers across the hot sidewalk in front of Fiona Crawley’s Phoenix home, and her vision wavered as if he were a mirage.

The sun glinted off of the straight blonde-streaked brown hair that fell over his forehead, and it triggered a memory for her. Fiona had blonde-streaked brown hair, and in pictures she’d shown Joslyn of her brother, they’d looked very much alike.

Joslyn looked more closely at the man as he closed the car door and approached her where she stood at the edge of Fiona’s front yard. He had golden-brown stubble that softened his square jaw, but there was no doubt that the shape of his face was the same as Fiona’s, although wider and more sharply cut.

“Are you … Clay?” Joslyn guessed as he stopped in front of her.

His low brow wrinkled. “Who are you?” His voice was low but not gravelly, with a smoothness that made her think of honey.

The Arizona sun had been unbearably hot since six this morning, but it suddenly became a furnace. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of her neck, and she wiped at it. “I’m Joslyn Dimalanta. I was good friends with Fiona when she lived in Los Angeles—we were classmates in the same Master’s Degree program. You’re her brother, right? You look exactly like her.”

“Half-brother.” There was a tinge of bitterness in his tone. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here looking for Fiona.” She straightened her shoulders. “I got a postcard from her—”

“When?” Clay’s eyes suddenly became more intense, and he took a half-step toward her.

He wasn’t a large man, but something about the strength simmering beneath his wide shoulders gave Joslyn a flash of her abusive ex-boyfriend, and her heartbeat went into red-alert for a second. It must have showed on her face, because he looked conscientious and quickly stepped back.

She took a long breath before answering him. “Fiona sent it three weeks ago, but I only got it a few days ago. It was sent to my old address in L.A.”

“Three weeks? I got a phone call from her three weeks ago.”

“What did she say? Is she all right?”

“She said, ‘Clay, help me,’ and then she hung up.” A muscle flexed in his jaw.

That’ seemed odd and abrupt. “Did she sound frightened? Stressed?”

“Her voice shook.” Worry was etched in his face, in the lines between his brows and alongside his mouth. “I hadn’t heard from her in …” He stopped himself and looked away.

Joslyn knew, from what Fiona had mentioned when they were friends in L.A., that Fiona and Clay had been close as children, but something happened to make them drift apart from each other. Fiona had said that she hadn’t spoken to her half-brother since she graduated college. “Before I got the postcard, I hadn’t spoken to Fiona in the two years since she left L.A.” It was one of the reasons it had been so surprising.

“What did she say?”

“She said she was in trouble and needed my help. But she didn’t say where she was.” The handwriting had been messy, as if written in a hurry, but she’d recognized it as Fiona’s.

“Where was the postmark?”

“Phoenix. The card was a touristy Grand Canyon design, pre-stamped.”

Clay frowned. “That’s strange. Why would she call me and send you a postcard?”

“And why wouldn’t she say anything more than that she needed help?” The knot at the base of her skull tightened even more. “It’s why I came here. I had to do some digging to find her address—after she left L.A., it looks like she didn’t want to be found, which I thought was strange.”

“I had to hire a private investigator to find this address for me.” But there was uncertainty in his face as he glanced at the house. The house’s large bay front window had white curtains pulled across, and there was no way to know if anyone was inside. “Did you ring the doorbell?”

“No, I just got here.”

Clay’s mouth was grim. “Maybe it was just a bad joke.”

To two people who hadn’t spoken to Fiona in years? Joslyn didn’t think it was likely, but the alternative was that Fiona was in serious trouble.

Clay strode up the concrete walkway that wound through the stone garden in the front yard to the door. “Let’s hope she doesn’t run away screaming when she sees me,” he muttered.

“Fiona always talked about what a great big brother you were,” Joslyn said. Protective. Someone she’d trust. Fiona had loved him dearly, but had simply shook her head sadly when Joslyn asked why she didn’t try to get in touch with Clay again after all these years.

He looked at Joslyn in surprise, his eyes lightening to blue. It transformed his serious face into a man who had been lifted of some type of great burden. But then something painful flickered across his gaze and he turned away.

Joslyn followed him to the front door, trying to wrap her head around everything that had come out in the last few minutes. This was too much thrown at her at once—not just the postcard from Fiona, but Clay’s phone call, equally as vague. And then meeting him here, seeing firsthand the strength in his arms and the fearless way he carried himself, which fit the stories Fiona had told Joslyn about Clay being a mob strong-arm in Chicago, before he went to prison.

Her first reaction had been attraction, but her second had been wariness. She’d suffered physically and emotionally at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. She knew not all strong men would hurt her, but she had become extra cautious about putting herself in a situation ever again where she had to be afraid.

Clay rang the doorbell, and they could faintly hear it ding-dong inside the house. He stood with his hands in his jeans pockets, but there was a tension across his wide shoulders that belied his casual pose. He rang the doorbell again. Still no answer.

Joslyn checked her watch. It was eight o’clock on Monday morning. “Maybe she went to work already.”

“Do you know where she works?”

“She’s IT support at a manufacturing company.” It was a rather low-paying job for Fiona, assuming she’d ended up finally getting her degree, but maybe she couldn’t get anything on a higher pay scale, or maybe she preferred the hours.

Clay’s eyes narrowed to stormy gray. “You said you haven’t talked to her in two years. How do you know all this?”

“It’s my job to find out stuff like this. I’m training to be a skip tracer.”

“A skip tracer?”

“I find people. I also help people disappear.” Joslyn had been especially grateful to her friend Elisabeth, who had originally helped her escape her abusive ex-boyfriend, for giving her a job in the O’Neill Agency while she finished her last few quarters in school. Joslyn found she enjoyed helping people, especially other women who wanted to get away from dangerous ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands. She understood their situations only too well.

Clay went to the front window to try to peer through the crack in the curtains. Joslyn noticed an envelope sticking out of the mail box next to the door and opened the lid. It was full of mail. It didn’t look like Fiona got a lot of junk mail, but the envelopes she did get were postmarked several weeks ago. “I don’t think Fiona’s been home for a while.” That wasn’t a good sign.

Clay frowned. “I don’t like this.”

“I know where Fiona usually kept a spare key,” Joslyn said. “In the back, under—”

“The ugliest gnome,” Clay finished for her, flashing a smile. His eyes crinkled and turned a glittering aquamarine, and Joslyn’s heartbeat blipped. While Fiona was beautiful, her brother was incredibly handsome.

“How do you know that?” she asked.

“She got that from me. It’s where I hid the spare key at my house back in Chicago, years ago.”

They headed around the side of the house, through the wooden latch gate, which was unlocked. The shade from the building made the temperature drop a few degrees, but it was still oppressively hot.

The backyard was small, and instead of grass it was bricked over with plant beds along the walls, where there were a few orange and lemon trees. However, there were also a line of little gnome statues next to the glass back door, and the ugliest one was clearly the largest, a hideous creature with a long nose, flashing grimy teeth in his grinning mouth. Clay tipped it over and found a key underneath.

Joslyn tried to peer through the wooden slats of the blinds covering the glass door, but couldn’t see anything in the darkened room beyond except for a glimpse of a television set and a leather couch. It seemed unusually dark considering the number of windows the house had.

Clay inserted the key and it turned smoothly. He turned the handle and eased the door open.

Then suddenly he was grabbing her and leaping aside just as an explosion shattered the morning.