With relentless suspense and a deft feel for creating men of power and character, Janet Dailey introduces three unforgettable brothers: RJ, Linc, and Deke Bannon.
Cold cases aren’t RJ Bannon’s usual line of work. But Ann Montgomery’s long-ago abduction is too intriguing to pass up. Ann was just three when she was taken in the night from her family’s historic Virginia mansion more than twenty-five years ago. The socially prominent Montgomerys launched a heartbreaking search but no trace of the missing girl was ever found.
Bannon knows the chances of finding her now—alive or dead—are slim, yet he can’t stop searching for answers. Especially once he meets Erin Randall. A beautiful, talented local artist, she seems to share some tantalizing connections with the vanished Ann. As the legacy of lies and deception comes to a shocking climax, a hidden menace explodes, and Bannon vows to protect Erin at all costs—even if it puts his own life on the line . . .
Praise for Janet Dailey and her novels
“Dailey confirms her place as a top mega-seller.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Evocative, flavorful . . . Dailey casts her spell.”—Publishers Weekly
“Romance and suspense blend seamlessly into the tightly crafted plot.”—Romantic Times
About the Author
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Bannon Brothers Trust
By JANET DAILEY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2011 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
High clouds drifted above the Blue Ridge Mountains as a hawk swept down from a barren granite summit, its wings spread wide, soaring over the rolling terrain below. Wheeling only once, the hawk flew through vast, moving shafts of light that cast farms and fields into alternating bands of sun and shadow. Sheltered by nature, the rich land of Virginia's valleys had been tilled for generations and tamed long ago, unlike the ancient mountains that rose abruptly from them, clad in their namesake haze of indigo. The hawk made a banking turn, spotting a moving object below. Its sharp eyes quickly identified a vehicle traveling along Route 231. But it took no interest in the dark-haired man behind the wheel and swung west toward the Shenandoah.
With eyes as keen as the hawk's, the driver saw it lift away, then refocused his attention on the road ahead, catching glimpses of forest on the verge of spring. A pair of sunglasses shielded his eyes from the morning glare. The cut of his cheekbones and jawline were on the hard side. Although only in his early thirties, RJ Bannon looked more experienced than that.
As he let a truck pass him, he glanced again at the steep slopes of Old Rag, a solitary outcrop of the Blue Ridge, the only one with a bare rock summit. A smile of remembrance softened the line of his mouth as he recalled climbing that mountain as a boy, scrambling over giant boulders to beat his brothers and father to the top.
The experience got him into rappelling and free climbing by the time he was twenty, something he very much doubted he could do now, twelve years later.
Bannon sat up straighter when he felt a twinge near his spine, an unwelcome reminder of the bullet still lodged there. In most respects, he was as strong as ever, something his brothers had taken into account when they'd asked him to open the backcountry cabin the three of them shared. He'd gone up two days ago, a jolting drive over ruts that the winter had deepened, to look the place over. Nothing too dire. The roof was still on, minus a few shingles. The well was working and, after a little persuasion with a wrench, so was the plumbing. A critter or two had taken up residence beneath the floorboards — he'd flung open all the windows and gotten into the crawl space with a flashlight to make sure it had vacated its winter lodgings. Nothing there but drifts of fur.
After that it had been nice to get out into the air and do the hard work of clearing away and chopping fallen branches around the property for firewood and kindling. When he was done, he hadn't wanted to leave. But now that he was on the road, he wasn't sure when he'd get back out again. With Deke and Linc out of the state on assignment, Bannon didn't feel much inclined to hang out at the cabin on his own.
He drove on, humming some old song to himself, toward Wainsville. He could see it in the distance. Not his hometown, but he'd been happy enough there, wanting to live in a town that time forgot, until Wainsville had been "discovered." Now its friendly old houses were overshadowed by condos and too many trees had been taken down to make room for them. The town even had a couple of office parks on land that had been bought cheap and developed with no thought to tradition. The surrounding area was still beautiful and largely rural, but an influx of hedge-fund titans who'd cashed out had come here. Their new, outsize mansions were everywhere and their nouveau riche attitude rankled the locals.
Bannon scowled as he passed a just-built monstrosity that sat on raw soil, an eyesore from any angle. Construction debris was halfheartedly controlled by an orange plastic fence that flapped in the breeze. He didn't have a good reason to feel superior. After all, he lived in a condo, mostly so he wouldn't get stuck maintaining a home. Being a cop, you made decisions like that. He stopped at his condo long enough to pick up an envelope of paperwork and headed out again.
The sun grew brighter as Bannon drove through town, turning left at a small complex of textured cinder-block buildings on the other side of Wainsville. Someone had made an effort to landscape around headquarters — yellow daffodils, the eye-popping yellow of crime scene tape, were blooming in rows of unvarying straightness. He bet the chief of police approved.
He parked in what had once been his slot and switched off the engine, looking up at the narrow windows under the eaves. They were too high to see in from the outside, but it was a safe guess that everyone was right where they usually were. Except him.
Out of habit he used the reflection of the wire-gridded glass to look behind him as he went up the front steps. What would it be like, he wondered, to not feel compelled to check every corner, every shadow, every movement for danger? But the habit of constant watchfulness had been drilled into him the hard way.
Bannon spared a fraction of a second to check himself out before he opened the door. His dark hair was windblown and his jaw was outlined with stubble after two days up at the cabin. Forget the uniform. He still wore the torn jeans, scuffed work boots, and banged-up leather jacket that had served him out in the woods. Too bad. He was here and he was on time. Chief Hoebel would have to deal with him the way he was.
His boots were old and they didn't make much noise on the gleaming tile floor of the hallway as he walked down to the young officer on desk duty. Fair-haired and freckled, Kyle Rasmussen was a rookie, a fact almost anyone could conclude just from his spotless uniform and shiny new gun belt, laden with forty pounds of regulation-issue junk.
"Can I help you?" Rasmussen studied him with curious, almost innocent blue eyes.
It took Bannon a second to realize that the new cop didn't recognize him. He'd been out of the office for too many months, thanks to a drug dealer with fairly good aim and a chief who didn't like him for being a hero — and for a few other reasons he was beginning to figure out. Without saying a word, he reached inside his jacket and flashed his badge. The officer shrugged, looking a little surprised, and went back to reading a binder with bulleted lists and line illustrations, a manual on police techniques that no one took seriously. Bannon suppressed a smile and headed down the hall to where the chief's office was located.
When he reached the outer office, Bannon flicked a glance at the closed door to the chief's inner sanctum, then focused on Chief Hoebel's assistant behind the desk. The blond and blue-eyed Jolene Summer had the phone cradled to her ear — with both hands. That, and the low flirty tone of her voice, made it easy for Bannon to guess she was talking to her boyfriend.
Looking up almost indifferently, she cupped a hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, "The chief had to go out. He said to leave your paperwork with me."
"Okay. Here." Irritated that he'd come this far without getting to talk to Hoebel, Bannon smiled at Jolene anyway and passed her the manila envelope with his paperwork.
"I'll try to get him to sign it today," she added in the same low whisper. "It's not going to be easy. You know he's got it in for you."
"Really? I hadn't noticed." He winked at her and left her to flirt with the lucky guy on the other end of the call.
Retracing his steps, he headed back to the front. Near the door to the basement, he automatically glanced at it and hesitated when he read the sign there.
Doris Rawling. Case Files Manager.
An image of the fiftysomething woman flashed in his mind — average height, slim build, iron-dark hair with stylish streaks of silver-white, warm brown eyes, and lips that were always ready with a smile for him.
Bannon looked at the new title again, realizing she had been promoted from evidence clerk sometime in the last several weeks. But he had a feeling she hated being stuck in the windowless basement with its chill-inducing cement floor.
As he opened the steel door, he called out a greeting and descended the studded metal stairs. When there was no reply to his call, he ventured forward. The floor-to-ceiling metal grates that enclosed the Evidence Control Unit blocked the lines of sight. Bannon looked through them for a person on duty, then swung around a corner, spotting the top of Doris's head at a makeshift computer workstation.
"Hey, RJ," she tossed over her shoulder. Doris was about the only one who called him RJ; to everyone else, except for his mother, he was just Bannon. Doris put a document from the huge pile beside her into a scanner and closed the lid. A thin bar of light moved from one end of the machine to another as the scanner emitted a faint hum. She looked into her monitor and clicked the mouse a few times to make the image fit a format, then saved it with another click. Turning, she flashed him a smile, a pair of reading glasses perched on her pudgy nose. "It's been a while. How are you?"
Bannon shot a glance around the area. "Fine. Are you alone?"
Eyes dancing, she peered at him through her half-glasses. "What the hell do you have in mind, kid?"
He winked at her. "Just wanted to know. Who's handling evidence now?"
"Hoebel's son-in-law Petey. He leaves early."
Bannon nodded, then waved a hand at the tall stacks of file folders surrounding her. "So what's all this?"
"We're going paperless. I'm archiving old case files," Doris said, adding, "Hoebel gave me a month. I'll never finish in time."
RJ looked over his shoulder, then turned back to her. "I was supposed to meet with him but he's out. Want some help, or is that against the rules?"
"Sure. He doesn't have to know." One shoulder lifted in an uncaring shrug. "Hardly anyone comes down to this dungeon."
"Good. Hey, I forgot to say congratulations on your promotion." He lifted his coffee cup in a salute and caught her faint smile of pride.
"I guess it's worth the extra work." She pushed aside the pepper-and-salt bangs that fell into her eyes when she leaned forward to peer closely at the document on the screen. "The information is going to be shared with the new national databanks."
"State and federal, right?" He crumpled up his takeout coffee cup and tossed it in the nearest wastebasket, then looked over the files spread out in irregular rows.
"That's the idea. Connect the dots, catch the criminals."
"About time," RJ said. "Some of these old cases could be charged or cleared."
"The chief thought so. For once I agree with him." She stopped what she was doing to swivel her chair and actually look at him. "So what brings you here?" she asked.
"I had paperwork for Hoebel to sign. Continuance of claim, that kind of thing."
"Are you still on official leave?"
"Take your time about coming back, RJ. You did get a settlement after the shooting, right? Enough to live on?"
"For a while. Not indefinitely."
Doris sniffed. "After being used for target practice, you should have gotten plenty."
"Tell that to the insurance company and the top brass," he replied. "Getting better was all I wanted to do."
"Ever think about catching the guy who shot you?"
"All the time," he said. "Who did Hoebel assign to the case after the first guy quit? Hope it's not the baby boy on the desk."
"No, it's not him. I think right now it's up for grabs, actually," she replied.
He threw up his hands. "Nice to know a shot cop is such a high priority around here. Is it me? Is it Hoebel? Is it something I said?"
"Uh, he does think you're a loose cannon —"
Bannon had to smile. "From him, that's a compliment. But I guess he didn't appreciate my noticing where his new car came from."
"Refresh my memory, dear."
"Remember that college kid who set fire to the gas station at the crossroads just for the hell of it?" "Yes. The charges were dropped before it ever got to court."
"Of course. Because his daddy owns the Big, Fast, and Ridiculously Expensive dealership out on the highway."
"Ah." Doris nodded sagely. "I understand. I did notice that Hoebel was driving a Beefer. Well, he needs the extra belly room."
"So will I," Bannon said ruefully, looking down at his midsection and slapping it. Physically, he was most of the way back to what he had been, thanks to a rigorous exercise routine he'd devised to rehab his body. "Someday," he added quickly. Too late. Doris was laughing.
"Yeah, maybe in fifty years," she teased him. "Anyway, getting back to you being shot, it's hard to believe there are still no leads in the case." There was an edge of disgust in her voice.
"I do, RJ. Anyway, welcome to Cold Case City. Guess that makes me its mayor." She glanced back at her computer screen. "I wish this was over. I'm only halfway through."
"Take a break," RJ said.
"Don't tempt me."
"It's a beautiful day, Doris."
"And the Art Walk is going on. Wish I didn't have to miss it." She gave him a dejected look. "Days like this make me eager to retire."
"Really?" he asked. "You don't look old enough."
"Aww. Aren't you sweet," she mocked in amusement.
RJ returned his attention to the files on the table, wondering if any of his older cases were among them. They had been laid out in alphabetical order, he noticed. "Okay. Where do you want me to start?" "Are you really that desperate for something to do?" She sliced him a doubting glance.
"What letter are you up to?" he asked.
"M." She slid off her chair to come over to where he was and picked a thick, crammed folder from a group. "The Montgomery case is next. This is the main file." She set it in front of him.
"It's a monster."
"You volunteered," she reminded him and sighed. "This one's a mess, and there are ten others."
"Mind giving me a summary of it?"
One eyebrow went up. "You can read, right?" He grinned. "Big type. Small words. You know me, I just sit on a stump and shoot tin cans for laughs."
"Don't make me believe it, Detective Bannon." She patted the file. "Get started. Do what you can."
"How come it's so big?"
"Oh — there are lots of Montgomerys around here, for one thing." He noticed that she had dodged his question. "The family goes back twelve generations in this part of Virginia. The historical society even gives tours of the ancestral mansion outside of Wainsville — one of those big stately homes that got built, oh, in the eighteen hundreds. Haven't you seen it?"
"No. I usually get assigned to drug dealers in double-wides, remember?"
"Of course I do." She nodded, then smiled wryly. "Somehow I don't think the Montgomerys would know a double-wide if one snuck up on them and bit their butts. They're rich and always have been." Her dry tone made the social divide between the Rawlings and the Montgomerys more than clear. "Still and all, they're not as snooty as some of the newcomers around here. And the Mrs. Montgomery in that file definitely wasn't a blueblood."
"You read it?" Bannon challenged.
Her face was a study in patience. "I knew her — not well, though. We went to the same church when we were younger. Before she married and I didn't. Luanne was always nice."
Something about her thoughtful tone made him curious. Very curious. "You going to tell me more about that?"
"I'm holding you to that," he responded.
Doris turned back to her work. "Go ahead and start sorting what you can. I'll finish the one I'm working on while you do."
"Okay. Take your time."
He took off his leather jacket and slung it across the back of a folding chair, then settled his long frame into the seat, ignoring a sharp twinge in his back when he sat down. RJ opened the Montgomery file and noticed that the earliest forms had been completed on a manual typewriter. He picked up the first piece of paper and read the basics.
Victim: Ann Spencer Montgomery.
Nature of crime: abduction.
At a later date, someone had scrawled four bleak words across the paper.
Still missing. Presumed dead.
Presumed dead. Not declared dead. Officially still considered missing. Curious, Bannon began turning pages of the thick file and soon became engrossed in it for the better part of an hour. "This is one hell of a case," he said softly and glanced at Doris. "How come I never heard of it?"
Excerpted from Bannon Brothers Trust by JANET DAILEY. Copyright © 2011 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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