Colton Baby Homecoming

By: Lara Lacombe

CHAPTER 1

Ridge Colton climbed behind the wheel of his truck and tried to rub away the gritty, sandpaper feeling from his eyes. He’d been up and at it since before dawn, searching the woods around Granite Gulch with the rest of his team, courtesy of a middle-of-the-night phone call made by a resident. Archie Johansen, a retired school bus driver, had been woken by the sound of footsteps on his porch. A curmudgeon to his core, Archie had grabbed his shotgun and thrown open the door, determined to scare off whoever dared to trespass on his property. As Archie described it, the second he opened his door a dark figure scrambled off his porch and hightailed it for the nearby trees. The old man swore up and down the intruder was carrying a rifle, which had prompted his call to the police. The people of Granite Gulch were normally pretty tough, but with the Alphabet Killer still on the loose, suspicions were running high.

And so Ridge had been dragged from his nice warm bed to comb the area, looking for any signs of an armed and possibly dangerous person skulking around in the woods that surrounded the town.

They hadn’t found anyone, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Secretly, Ridge thought the older man had actually seen an animal snuffling about in search of dinner rather than an armed threat. After all, Archie hadn’t been wearing his glasses at the time, and he hadn’t bothered to turn on his porch light before flinging open the door to do battle. It was hard enough to see in the dark, and Ridge knew from experience that heightened emotions often made people see things that weren’t really there. Still, they couldn’t afford to take any chances. One of these days the Alphabet Killer was going to make a mistake and Ridge wanted to be there to bring him down.

I’ll have to fight the others for the privilege, though, he thought with a small smile. With the exception of his brother Ethan and his youngest sister, Josie, all his siblings had gone into law enforcement and were currently focused on this case. In a way, it was kind of nice they were all working together, even if the circumstances of their reunion         were less than ideal. Normal families didn’t need the hunt for a serial killer to bring them together. But then again, their own father had been a serial killer, so normal wasn’t exactly a word that had ever applied to them.

With a sigh, Ridge pushed aside thoughts of his father. Matthew Colton had no place in his life, and he refused to waste energy thinking about the man. It had taken him years to move past his issues with his parentage, and dwelling on a fact that couldn’t be changed wouldn’t do him any good.

A gentle touch on his arm snagged his attention, and he turned to find his partner, Penny, staring up at him with her soulful, dark brown eyes. “I’m okay, girl,” he said, reaching over to scratch behind her ears. Penny, a chocolate Lab, was the best search and rescue dog on the team, and she was always very attuned to Ridge’s moods. In truth, Ridge often felt closer to her than to other people. She didn’t care who his father was, didn’t whisper behind his back or ask awkward questions. She just stayed by his side, a true and loyal friend. She’d melted his heart the moment he’d found her as a lost and abandoned puppy, and he’d do anything for her.

“Ready to head home?” he asked. It had been a long day for her, as well, but she never complained. She let out a soft “ruff” in response, and he started the truck. Keeping one hand on Penny’s head, he idly stroked the velvety softness of her ears as he drove. “How about a bath tonight?” After spending all day in the woods, they both smelled pretty bad, and he needed to check her over for ticks and other unfriendly critters. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.

Her ears pricked forward at the word bath. True to her breed, Penny loved the water. While she’d much rather swim in the lake or splash through a stream, she tolerated a bath and its accompanying shampoo with the long-suffering patience of a martyr.

His mood lifted as he pondered the evening’s activities. First, cleanup for him and Penny. Then he’d build a nice fire so she could warm herself while he threw a steak on the grill. And after dinner, he’d get back to his book. Yes, that sounded like the perfect way to wrap up a disappointing day.

It took about twenty minutes before he turned down the long, single-lane road that led to his cabin. His older sister, Annabel, made no secret of the fact that she thought he was too isolated from everyone, but Ridge liked his solitude. It was peaceful out here with his cabin nestled up to the edge of the woods. And he much preferred the soothing sounds of the forest to the grating noise of town. Even though Granite Gulch wasn’t a huge metropolis like Houston, it was a growing city complete with traffic, construction and plenty of people. He knew it was only a matter of time before the urban sprawl began to creep into his oasis, but Ridge was determined to enjoy the quiet while he still could.

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