"Natalie." Frank's deep voice rumbled across the room. "You should go." His tone carried a heaviness that told her he, too, assumed it was her father.
Most folks in this town had heard of her evangelist father. Everyone also knew that each unexpected phone call could be announcing very bad news.
Or just another false alarm. And those head-office guys would be here in forty-one minutes . . .
Frank placed a hand on her back and pushed her to the door. "We'll be fine. It might be nothing, and you'll be back in time. If not . . ." He paused, having maneuvered her to the threshold, and met her eye. "There's more important things than this store. Go."
She reached into her pocket for her keys. If she missed saying goodbye to Dad, she'd never forgive herself.
"Thanks, Frank." She sprinted from the room.
"And don't take that hunk of junk you call a car," he shouted after her as she reached the end of the corridor.
She paused, and he tossed her his keys.
"Good luck, Nattie."
She nodded and darted out into the parking lot. The muggy late-summer air triggered an instant sweat, and the morning sun made her squint. She hit the beeper and ran past her rusted VW Bug toward flashing headlights. Thank heaven for Frank. He knew her car was as likely to break down as not.
Natalie jumped into the driver's seat of Frank's SUV and pulled a fast-food bag off the dash before she threw the vehicle into reverse. The scent of stale fries lingered in the air. She twisted in the seat to look out the back window, and a flash of color caught her eye. Discarded Happy Meal toys lay in a child's car seat, strapped in next to a baby seat. Frank must've had his grandkids for the weekend again.
She rocketed backward, then out of the parking lot and onto the road. She'd go to the address the mystery man mentioned first—it was just around the corner. She might even beat the ambulance.
If there was nothing there, she'd head to Martha Jefferson Hospital.
* * *
A man lay splayed out on the footpath ahead. More than six feet of pale skin and freckles. Unmoving.
The sharp twist in Natalie's gut eased as she slowed the SUV and flashed her turn signal. That man definitely wasn't her seventy-one-year-old father.
Thank you, God.
She swiped a stray tear that had gathered in the corner of her eye, then squinted at the figure on the ground. It sure looked like . . .
Movement caught her eye. An older man, standing behind the guy on the footpath, holding a baby with one arm as the other flagged her down.
She whipped the car into a parking space fifteen yards from the man prone on the ground. She couldn't see his face from this angle. But recognition tickled the edge of her mind. Mouth dry and stomach on spin cycle, she jumped out.
The older man rushed toward her, Colonel Sanders without the smile. She tried not to stare.
She gestured to the man on the ground behind the colonel. "What happ—"
He dumped the baby into her arms. It squirmed and squealed, and she recoiled half a step as the child wobbled in her tenuous grasp. She clutched a handful of blue jumpsuit while the baby arched his back against her, kicked his chubby legs, and reached toward the man on the ground. "What is going on?"
"You know this guy, right?"
The Colonel Sanders look-alike blocked her view, so she couldn't confirm or deny.