Love Inspired Suspense July 2021

By: Lynette Eason

ONE


Isabelle Trent woke with a start. She lay still, trying to figure out what had jarred her just as the sun was beginning to make its way above the horizon. She’d forgotten to pull her curtains closed before she’d fallen into bed with a half-finished prayer on her lips.

Maybe it was just the light that had disturbed her.

A faint cry reached her.

Or maybe not. One of the children?

Isabelle threw off the covers and hurried to pull on her robe and slippers. She darted out of the bedroom and into the hall, pausing to listen. Nothing. She went to the room nearest hers and peered in. The twin beds on opposite walls each held one child. Twelve-year-old Danny Billings and fourteen-year-old Zeb Hammrick, who’d become best of friends since being placed with her. Zeb had arrived first, two months ago. Danny had come a short two days later. Both boys slept the deep sleep of those without worries—exactly what she’d worked so hard to help them do.

In the next room, five-year-old Katie Miller snored gently, her left arm wrapped around the neck of the little doll she was never without.

The sound reached Isabelle’s ears once more coming from farther away. A cry that sounded like...a baby? A kitten? She retraced her steps back to her bedroom, bypassed it and stepped into the great room.

The sound grew louder, and it came from the wraparound porch just ahead.

Finally, she identified it.

A baby.

With a soft gasp, Isabelle hurried forward to unlock the French door and step outside. A brisk October wind whipped her hair around her face and chills skated up her spine. The wood creaked beneath her weight and the crying stopped for a brief second before resuming at an ear-piercing decibel level. She flipped the light on.

At her feet, an infant was strapped into a carrier. A heavy wool blanket covered the baby. A small box sat next to the carrier. “Oh, my sweet little one.” Isabelle released the straps and scooped the tiny body, blanket and all, into her arms. Sniffles and hiccups greeted her. A piece of paper fluttered from the blanket back into the carrier as the baby jammed a fist into its mouth.

Another angry wail rattled the roof. “Okay, I hear you. You’re definitely hungry.” She knelt to check the box and breathed a sigh of relief when she found a full bottle and a can of formula, along with a pack of diapers and wipes. She snatched the bottle and shook it. How long had it been in there? It was room temperature, so it was probably fine. If it had been out much longer, it would have been cold thanks to the temperatures hovering in the midforty range.

Movement from the edge of the porch caught her attention. “Hey, who’s there?” She stuck the nipple into the baby’s mouth, and blessed quiet ensued.

The figure moved, slipping away from the glow of the light.

The slow-moving sun only revealed the silhouette of the person simply standing there. Not moving. Just watching. Male or female, she couldn’t tell. Unease crawled through her. “Hey, is this your baby?”

Again, nothing. But she thought it might be a man. Then again, the lanky form could be an older teen. His hoodie-covered head swiveled left, then right. She tried to see his face hidden by the cloth but could only make out a shadow. “Hello?”

Still, he stayed silent. He looked back over his shoulder one more time, then seemed to make up his mind about something. Her nerves jangled and alarm shuddered through her. He took a step toward her and Isabelle spun. Holding the infant in the crook of her left arm, she twisted the knob with her right hand and pushed the door open just wide enough for her to slip through. She shut the door and locked it.

Her phone sat on her nightstand in her bedroom, but she was too busy worrying about if she’d locked the other doors. Heart pounding, she watched the figure through the glass while the baby was content to suck down the contents of the bottle.

He moved as though to leave, then turned back, dark eyes on hers. He came toward the glass door, reaching for the knob. Clutching the baby, Isabelle whirled and raced to her bedroom to snatch her phone from the nightstand. She dialed 911 and hurried back to the den area to see the dark-clad figure pacing in front of her door. Quick as lightning, he spun and slammed a fist on the wooden part of the door. The noise jarred the infant, who let out a wail.

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