Special Forces Father
Author:Mallory Kane

chapter Six

Travis got to Kate’s house at fourteen minutes until seven. He’d called Stamps’s secretary and found out that Darby Sills was scheduled to attend the same dinner Stamps and the mayor were attending. He wasn’t above confronting the senior senator there, but by the time he found out where Sills was, it was after five-thirty and he was facing driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway during rush hour. Just as he’d figured, it had taken over an hour to get back to Kate’s house.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the front door behind him. Then he saw Kate. At the same time, she saw him and cried his name. She was barefoot and she’d obviously been pacing the living room.

He met her gaze as her expression, frantic with fear, turned to anger and her pale cheeks flushed. Then the anger morphed into a cold stare that could have flash-frozen hot coffee. “Give me my phone,” she snapped.

“Kate, listen to me. We don’t have much time.”

“Give—me—my—phone. How dare you take it from me?”

He took a deep breath. “I don’t have your phone,” he said quietly. He rose to the balls of his feet, bracing himself for her to explode, fully expecting her to come flying at him with her fists doubled. But she surprised him.

She stood perfectly still, her back ramrod straight, her expression eerily calm and composed. But Travis saw the tracks of tears on her cheeks. More than that, he saw the brittle tension that was holding her together. One tiny crack in that fragile facade and she would shatter. Sadly, he knew that his next words would be like a sledgehammer to her very frail shell of calm.

“I left it with my cousin Dawson.” He held up his hands, palms out. “He’s not a cop. He’s a private investigator.”

Her expression didn’t change, but her face turned pale and her hand fluttered to her chest. “Your—cousin?” she said, swaying slightly. “Why did you do that? You promised me.”

Travis watched her carefully. Was she going to faint? He stepped close to her and placed a hand on her elbow. She went rigid at his touch. “I’m going to explain. Okay?”

She didn’t answer, but she let him lead her to the couch and urge her to sit. He sat beside her. Her gaze was so full of betrayal and desperate fear that it made his heart hurt.

“I didn’t go to the police,” he said. “I promised you I wouldn’t.”

She looked at him for a long moment, then down at her hands. “Now I can’t talk to the kidnapper. He’s going to hurt Max.”

Travis reached for her hands but she clenched them together in her lap. “It’s okay,” he said. “Dawson’s got a computer guy that can hack into your phone. He’s going to trace the kidnapper’s call. Figure out where the signal originated, where the guy bought it—everything he can.”

“He’ll know, the kidnapper will know—and then he’ll—” Her breath caught on a sob.

“No, hon. No. He probably won’t find out, but even if he does—he’s not going to hurt Max. Dawson said the same thing I did. These people need Max. He’s the only hold they have over you. If something happens to him, they’ll have nothing. They’ve got to keep him safe and healthy.”


Travis put a finger against her lips. “Shh. Let me tell you what Dawson said.”

She turned her head away from his fingertip and clenched her hands in her lap again.

Travis hated what he was doing to her. He’d known that going to Dawson was a good idea. He’d also known it would be difficult to explain it to Kate. But this was harder than he’d expected. The bewildered, betrayed expression on her face nearly broke his heart. He could only pray that he’d done the right thing.

“Dawson gave me a phone for you to use. As soon as he finished talking with the kidnapper, he programmed your phone to forward all calls to this one.” Travis reached into his pocket and retrieved the burner phone.

Kate reached for the small black device. Travis gave it to her and she held on to it with both hands, as if she were afraid it would disappear.

“So any calls you receive—” he continued.

“Will transfer to this one?”

“That’s right,” he said, relieved that she wasn’t too distraught to understand. He smiled at her.

But suddenly, her eyes grew wide and her face went completely white. “You said— Oh my God!” Kate’s hand went to her mouth. “Your cousin—he talked to the kidnapper? What did he say? What did he do? Is Max all right?” Tears sprang to her eyes.

Travis caught her hands. “Listen to me, hon. I know you’re scared. I am, too. But Dawson knew just exactly how to handle him. The kidnapper’s going to call back—” he glanced at his watch “—any minute now. The call will come through this phone. We think he’s going to let you talk to Max.”

“Talk to Max?” Kate’s ravaged expression brightened a little. “Really? I can talk to him?”

And then he watched helplessly as she crumbled like one of those buildings that implodes in on itself.

She collapsed against the couch cushions, covered her face with her hands and cried. This wasn’t a stoic, silent weeping, characterized only by the tears that coursed down her face. This was a full-on breakdown, with heart-wrenching sobs that seemed to be torn from her soul.

Travis fell mute. He’d feared she would break down, but this was more awful than he’d imagined. There was nothing to do but offer his comfort. He put his arm around her tentatively, giving her the choice of rejecting or accepting his embrace. She stiffened. But he remained still, barely touching her, giving her the option of pulling away. Finally, she leaned into him, burying her face in the hollow between his neck and shoulder, her delicate back shaking, her tears soaking his shirt.

He held her and murmured meaningless words. He wasn’t sure what all he said. Meaningless things like it’s going to be okay, and don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right. He didn’t know where he’d learned how to comfort, but he remembered holding Harte and Cara Lynn and whispering to them while their dad had shouted and cursed at their mother or Lucas.

It seemed like a long time later when Kate finally stopped sobbing and merely sniffled occasionally. Her breath cooled his tear-soaked shirt. As she quieted, he turned his face toward her hair and breathed in the strawberry scent that he remembered. She still used the same shampoo.

Lifting his arm carefully so as not to startle her, Travis looked at his watch again. Four minutes after seven. Why hadn’t the kidnapper called? He blew out a frustrated breath.

Kate stirred, then pulled away. When she lifted her head, her face was splotchy and tear-streaked. She blinked, then looked at him wide-eyed, her wet, matted lashes surrounding her blue-green eyes like dark starbursts. “What’s wrong?” she asked, and sniffled.

“Nothing,” he said automatically.

She narrowed her gaze. “Yes. Something’s wrong.” She scowled. “You said the man would call any minute.” Her breath hitched. “He’s— Oh, God, he should have called by now. He’s not going to, is he?”

“He’s only a couple minutes late,” he murmured as he pushed a damp strand of hair away from her cheek and brushed it back at her temple. Then he looked solemnly into her eyes. “Listen to me. Dawson’s going to be recording every word both of you say. You need to get the guy to talk, to be as specific as possible about what he’s doing and why.”

Kate’s tongue slipped out to moisten her lips and Travis’s body, to his disgust and dismay, reacted immediately. After holding her close for those long moments, he was so in tune with her, so filled with the sight and scent and feel of her, that he was already half turned on. Now the sight of her tongue stirred him and made him long to taste it and the inside of her mouth. To kiss her and feel her kissing him back, like they’d done in college, when they were still in love.

But this wasn’t the time. Hell, it might never be the right time for that again. This was about Kate and her son, and his attempts to help her get her little boy back. It wasn’t about anything else. Certainly nothing to do with him.

He pulled her closer, willing to do nothing but hold her as long as she needed holding. But she kept her gaze on his for a second, then, to his surprise, she looked at his lips. He swallowed.

“Travis,” she said softly, her eyes glittering with dampness.

“I know,” he said. “I’m here. I’ll be here as long as you need me.”

She brought a hand up and touched his neck, then pressed her lips to the place she’d touched, the place where his pulse hammered.

He closed his eyes. He’d never in his life felt anything softer and sweeter than her lips on him. Even now, just that soft brush of skin against skin. Nothing more than Kate’s attempt to make a connection with another person when she was missing her child so desperately.

But her lips stayed there, at his pulse point, then they slid up to his jaw and farther, until she could reach no higher. He bent his head, still passive, still not presuming that she actually wanted to kiss him.

A small moan of distress—or longing—escaped her lips and her hand, pressed against his chest, clenched around the material of his shirt.

The phone rang.

Kate jumped at the harsh jangle. For an instant, she didn’t realize she had grabbed a fistful of his shirt. His arm tightened briefly around her shoulders. He bent his head and touched his forehead to hers.

“That’s him,” he whispered. “Go ahead, you’ll do great.”

She turned her head toward the phone, sitting on the coffee table. As she reached for it, the ringer jangled again, and she had the impression that it moved. She stared at the display that read Private Number.

Travis touched her shoulder and nodded at her. “Get specifics,” he whispered. “And try to take control of the conversation.”

Kate leaned forward and picked up the phone with a shaking hand. She had no idea what she was going to say. No idea whether she could talk. Her throat was quivering. She pressed her hand against it. She had to stay calm. All she wanted to do was talk to Max. But she had to talk to the kidnapper first, and she was not going to let him hear her crying.

“Max needs you to be calm,” Travis muttered in her ear as she pressed the answer button with her finger. For some reason, his words helped.

“Hello,” she said.

“Dr. Chalmet, it’s good to finally hear your voice,” the man drawled. “A man answered your phone earlier. Didn’t I tell you not to tell anybody?”

His voice was low and threatening. Kate had an overwhelming urge to beg him to forgive her and please not hurt her baby, but Travis had warned her to take control of the conversation, so she did her best to picture the man as one of her patients, a delusional schizophrenic.

“I want to speak to my son,” she said as firmly as she could. Beside her, Travis leaned in to listen, his hand still on her shoulder, squeezing gently.

“You don’t get to say what you want, Doctor. I’m in charge, and I’ll let you know when you can talk to him.”

A lump rose in Kate’s throat. She didn’t think she could live another second without hearing her baby’s voice. She swallowed against the lump and took a fortifying breath.

“I want to talk to him now!” she said in her doctor-in-charge voice. It didn’t sound quite as commanding as she’d hoped it would. She wondered how much of her desperate fear the man could detect.

“Shut the hell up and listen to me,” the man yelled. “Do you think I care about what you want? Well, I don’t. We need to talk business. Then, if you’re good, maybe I’ll be generous. But only if you keep your mouth shut and listen to me.”

Next to her, Travis put his finger to his lips.

She nodded. “Okay,” she said into the phone. She took a deep breath and pressed her knuckles against her teeth for a brief instant. “Okay.”

“Good. It always helps to have a sensible parent.”

Always helps? “You’ve kidnapped children before,” she whispered.

A brief pause told her that he hadn’t meant to reveal that. “That’s right, Doctor. Very good. I’m a professional. So be very clear—I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you think that makes me feel better?” Kate said. “Do you think I’m happy that you’ve got lots of experience with abducting children and torturing their parents?”

“To tell you the truth, Doc, I don’t think anything about you. I don’t care about you. All I care about is getting the job done that I was hired to do. Now I need you to listen...to...me! Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Now.” The man took a long breath and let it out. “The trial date has been moved up—”

“What?” Kate vaulted to her feet. “When? When did that happen? Nobody told me anything about—”

“Shut! Up!”

Travis stood beside her, but she waved him off. “I’m okay,” she mouthed silently. She wasn’t okay, not by a long shot. But the more she interrupted, the more she protested, the longer it would be before she could speak to Max. And if she made the man angry enough, he might hang up without letting her talk to her little boy at all.

“The trial date has been moved up to Monday,” he said. “That’s only five days from now. Are you ready?”

Five days from now. That meant if she did everything that this awful man wanted her to, she’d be able to get her son back five days sooner than she’d thought. “No,” she said, as calmly and professionally as she could. “I’m not ready yet. I haven’t finished going through the case file. And I need to talk to Senator Stamps and the witnesses.”

“Come on, Doc. How hard is it to stipulate that he was temporarily insane when he shot that guy? You don’t need to read all the witness statements and reports. You sure don’t have to talk to them.”

Kate frowned at Travis. The man sounded like an attorney. Or maybe someone in law enforcement. He was comfortable with the correct terminology.

“I like to have all the facts before I present my findings,” she said.

“That’s admirable. But really, is there any question about what your findings are going to be in this case? After all, if you testify that Stamps was sane, then we no longer have an agreement, right?”

A stabbing pain caught Kate in the pit of her stomach. She gasped. “Please,” she said pitifully, then caught herself. She took a long breath. “If I don’t show that I’ve evaluated Senator Stamps and the situation thoroughly, I could be reversed on appeal.”

The man laughed. “I know that, Doc. But I don’t give a crap about appeals. You swing the temporary-insanity plea and I’m outta here. Look. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m doing what I was hired to do. Now I’m suggesting you do what I’ve told you. And you’re going to have to do it faster, because the trial date’s been moved up. What you’re going to do hasn’t changed, now, has it?”

“No,” she said. “It hasn’t changed.”

“Now I’ll call you again, and when I do, your phone better not be in someone else’s hands. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” she said, her breath hitching with rising panic. Don’t hang up, she begged silently. “Yes, it’s clear.” Dear God, she wanted to ask him, to beg him, to let her speak to Max. But he’d already warned her once. She held her breath, waiting to see what he was going to do.

She heard a soft scraping sound, as if he’d put a finger over the speaker, then nothing but silence. It went on for so long that she looked at the display, afraid that he’d hung up. But just as she put the phone back to her ear, she heard a woman’s voice, far away, as if she were in another room.

“Settle down. I’m coming,” the woman said, then, “Come on, honey.”

Max. Kate’s heart squeezed so tightly in her chest that she thought she might pass out. She felt Travis’s hands on her upper arms. He guided her back to the couch and she sat. She switched the phone to her left hand. The right one was cramping from holding it so tightly.

“Max?” she breathed.

“Okay,” she heard the man say, holding the phone away from his mouth. “Just a couple seconds. Got it?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the woman said irritably. “Honey,” she said tenderly, “say hi to Mama, okay?”


The small, anxious voice took Kate’s breath away. She put her hand over her mouth to stop the sobs that escaped her throat. “Ma-ax?” she stammered, then held the phone against her chest, trying to muffle the speaker so her baby wouldn’t hear her cry.

“Mah-mee?” Max’s whine, muffled by her blouse, ripped through her like a razor blade.

“Oh—” she wailed, every inch of her body aching with the pain of being separated from her child. She squeezed her eyes shut. Travis took her right hand in his and held it to his chest. She could feel his heart beating through his skin, through his ribs, through the flesh of his hand that surrounded hers. She didn’t know how he did it, but just the rhythm of his heart and the warmth of his hand gave her strength.

She lifted the phone to her ear. “Max, hi,” she said, as calmly as she could. She didn’t open her eyes, but she did force a smile, hoping it would come through in her voice. “Hi, honey.”

“Mah-mee? Where are you? Come get me. I wanna go home.”

“Maxie, honey, I know. You’ll be—” She held her breath, trying to stop the sobs. Travis’s hand squeezed hers. “You’ll be home real soon.”

“I don’t like this place,” he said. “They don’t got movies. I wish I had my car.”

“I know, sweetheart. It won’t be long. Don’t you have any toys there?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, yes, ma’am.”

Kate smiled through her tears. He was just learning how to say yes and no ma’am. She clutched at her chest. Oh, she felt so empty without him. “What kind? Good ones?”

“There’s a bear and a big choo-choo train, and some books.”

“That’s great. Can you read the books? Do you remember the words I showed you?”

“That’s enough,” Kate heard the kidnapper say.

She crushed the material of her blouse in her fist. “Max? Maxie, honey?”

“Mommy? Mahhh-meeee!” he cried suddenly, bursting into tears. “Mahhhmeeee-hee-hee?”

“Get him outta here!” the kidnapper growled. He’d taken the phone away from Max.

Kate heard Max crying and screaming “Mommy” as he was carried back to wherever they were keeping him.

“You bast—”

“Watch out, Doc, if you know what’s good for you and your son. I mean it.”

Kate did her best to compose herself. She sucked in a harsh breath and spoke crisply. “You have to tell me that you’re taking care of him. Is he getting enough to ea-eat? Is that woman staying with him all the time?” The more questions she asked, the calmer she became. There was someone there taking care of her child. Max had actually sounded fine. He hadn’t started crying until the man took the phone away from his ear.

“You just do what you’re told and your kid’ll be fine.”

Kate blotted tears from her cheeks. “I’m trying to. Just please tell me—” She heard a click, and the line went dead. She turned to Travis. “He hung up,” she said, holding out the phone.

Travis took it from her and looked at the display, then set it on the coffee table and held out his arms. Kate didn’t hesitate. She went to him.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. It felt right, as if they’d never been apart. “You did good.”

She shook her head against his shoulder. “I did horribly. He might have let me talk longer if I hadn’t been so demanding when I first answered.”

“No, I don’t think it so. He let you talk to Max a long time.”

“A long time?” She was surprised. “It wasn’t even a minute.”

“Abductors don’t like to let the hostage have too much contact with the outside world. It makes them harder to subdue. Dawson said this guy was a professional, and I can see that he is.” Travis turned his head so his lips were near her ear.

She could feel his warm breaths and the fast, hard beating of his heart.

“It’s also better for the hostage not to have contact with anyone on the outside,” he continued. “That way they won’t waste so much of their energy screaming and crying and trying to figure out ways to escape. The sooner the hostage accepts his fate, the easier his life becomes.”

Kate frowned. What was he talking about? Certainly not about Max. She pulled back and looked at him questioningly.

“What?” he said. He touched a damp spot on her cheek with a finger. It stung. She’d cried so much and wiped the tears away so often that the skin of her cheeks was raw.

She didn’t say anything, she just kept watching him, noting, as she had the first time she’d taken a good look at him, the paleness, his drawn features, the dark circles under his eyes and the fact that his clothes hung from his shoulders, at least a size too large, if not more.

“Come on, Kate. You’re looking at me with that I’m a shrink, don’t try anything look.” He held up a hand in a halfhearted gesture, as if trying to shield himself from her eyes.

“Oh, Travis. You weren’t just on a mission, were you?” she asked softly. “You were captured. You were held hostage.”

He stared at her for a brief moment, his mouth set, his eyes flat.

She touched his shoulder, but he shrugged off her hand. “Talk to me,” she said softly.

But he turned away. He walked over to the window and looked out on the darkness. “I had a tough mission, that was all. It was long and hard and lonely.”

“Come on, Travis. I know it was more than that.”

He turned back around and his face was expressionless. “You might be a shrink, but you’re not my shrink. I left Walter Reed because I didn’t want to hear all this. I’m sure not going to accept hearing it from you.” The words were cutting, but Travis’s tone was neutral, maybe even bordering on kind. Then, with no change in his expression or his tone, he asked, “How are you doing?”

Tears stung her eyes again. She massaged her temples with her fingertips. “I’m okay,” she said, her voice thickening with the urge to cry. “I’m not sure if I’m going to ever stop crying, though.” She gave a slight laugh. “Not until Max is home—” A little hiccup cut her sentence short and she felt what little resolve she had left crumble.

“You need to go to bed,” Travis said, eyeing her closely. “You’re exhausted. I know for a fact you were restless all last night. Between you and the wooden car sticking into my back, I didn’t sleep very well, either. This stress is eating you up inside.”

“I can’t sleep,” she said dismissively.

“Come on,” he said with a smile. “Don’t try to tell me that a physician doesn’t have some kind of sleeping tablet or tranquilizer around the house.” His voice went from neutral to gently amused.

She shook her head. “I don’t want to take anything. What if something happens during the night?”

“Nothing’s going to happen during the night. Besides, I’m here.” His shoulders moved in a small shrug.

Kate started to protest again, but Travis spoke first. “I’ll bet you haven’t eaten all day, have you? Want some soup?”

She shook her head. She didn’t think she could swallow anything.

“Okay. I know. I’ll make you some hot chocolate while you go put on your pajamas and climb into bed.”

“I should—” she began. “I need to—” But suddenly, her insides felt as though they’d run out of steam. Maybe she should have hot chocolate in bed and take something mild, just for tonight, just this one time, while Travis was here to take care of anything that might happen during the night. She felt guilty—for wanting to sleep while Max was being held by strangers, for allowing Travis to take over all her responsibilities.

He stepped close to her and lifted her chin with his finger. “You won’t be any good to Max if you walk around in a fog,” he said, as if he’d read her mind. “You need rest so you can work out what you’re going to say in your evaluation of Stamps.”

“You’re right.” She sighed. “I’ll go to bed. I’m going to set my alarm for seven, so I can get into the office and work on the evaluation. I’ve got to schedule Stamps’s interview, too. I haven’t talked to him yet.” Kate went into her bedroom and changed into a cami top and pajama bottoms, then went into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. There was a bottle of children’s cough medicine. She checked the label. Sure enough, it contained a mild antihistamine that was often used as a sleep aid. Reluctantly, she swallowed one child’s dose and washed it down with a few sips of water from her bathroom glass. Then she got into bed and picked up the Nero Wolfe mystery she’d been reading, and stared at it as she waited for Travis to bring her a cup of hot chocolate.

She thought about Max and wondered if he’d had anything warm to drink before he went to bed. That set her eyes to burning and called up a nasty little headache at the base of her skull. She closed her eyes.

Some time later, she was aware of the lamp being turned off and Travis lying down on the bed next to her. In a sleepy haze, she turned and snuggled next to his warm body, resting her head on his shoulder.

“You awake?” he whispered, hardly more than mouthing the words.

“Kind of,” she whispered back.

“Have you slept any?” he asked, pressing his face into her hair.

He felt her nod. “A little,” she said. “I dreamed about Max.”

“Good dreams?”

A tiny sob escaped from her throat. “Yes. Very good dreams.” She snuggled closer to him. “Travis?”

“Yeah, hon?” The way she said his name, hesitantly, tentatively, he was sure she was going to ask him to get up. To sleep in the living room on the couch. That she wanted to be alone.

“Stay here.”

That surprised him. “Here? You mean here, in bed?”

Her head moved up and down. “I need you close to me. I’m afraid if I’m alone I’ll fall apart.”

“Hey,” he said, turning his head toward her, “I told you, I’m here for you. Anything you want, you just tell me and you got it.”

She moved, pulling herself up and leaning over to kiss the side of his face. “Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know how you showed up at the exact moment I needed you.”

He turned his head and pressed a kiss against her cheek. “I don’t, either, but I’m—” His words were cut off by her lips, soft and tentative on his. He was afraid to move, afraid he’d break whatever spell had been cast between them. He closed his eyes and breathed in the strawberry scent of her hair and kissed her back, as softly and sweetly as she was kissing him. Despite the gentle sweetness, he began to become aroused. He suppressed a moan of frustration.

“Travis?” she whispered drowsily, her lips moving against his.

His pulse sped up. But he knew she was not only drowsy from the medication but exhausted. He set his jaw and forced himself to ignore the tantalizing feel of her soft, full mouth on his.

“I think I’m getting sleepy now....” Her words faded at the end and he felt the tension in her body relax as she fell asleep.

Now he did moan, low in his throat, then closed his eyes and listened to her soft, even breathing.