Everyone wanted to think they could change the world, reshape history, coerce others into believing the same damn things they did.
Idiots. The smart ones—people like him—figured out which side had the most money and shouted, “All in.”
Not that he had any interest in sharing his own philosophy and diluting the money pot. Let the activists blow up this power plant two days from now to make their statement. It would divert attention from his work, from the package coming through. The big payoff that would make it possible for him to deliver the treatment Andrea needed.
Three days until completion of his mission.
While Alaska was reeling from the explosion of a major power plant, struggling to heat homes, he would smuggle in his largest group of people yet—terrorists making their way into the U.S. across the Russian border. The Aleutian community provided the perfect out-of-the-way place to stash them, giving them a chance to test out their newly acquired American accents and knowledge until such time they could be assimilated into sleeper cells in the lower forty-eight.
Not everyone who left the community died. Just the ones who weren’t on his list of new Americans, international spies blending into the middle-class mainstream. Not that the individual on the other end of the phone knew all of those details, rather just assumed the “newbies” were a part of their own ecoterrorist cause, reaching out across the country.
“Listen, maybe I can make an exception in Misty’s case, because of her medical condition,” he pacified… he lied. Stroking his beard, he spun his chair around to look out the window over the thawing Bristol Bay, past the fishing boats. It was almost as if he could see them on their island mountain as he looked down the Alaska Peninsula that led to the Aleutians.
“All you have to do is make sure Misty doesn’t leave for a little while longer. Just keep things calm for now and we can revisit the subject later. How does that sound?”
“Okay, I can tr—”
The rest of the words got lost as Brett’s office door burst open. Heavy oak creaked the hinges as the secretary he shared with three other employees poked her head inside. “Mr. Livingston?”
His sat up straight fast. Donna knew to interrupt him only if his wife had an emergency.
He covered the mouthpiece of his phone, dread already gelling in his gut. “I assume this is important.”
“It is,” Donna said excitedly, her chin bobbing with agreement and a barely restrained need to speak.
The woman’s helpless, giggly act grated on his last nerve. His wife was so damn strong. Even locked inside her broken body, Andrea never complained, still embracing life head-on.
Brett spoke into the cell phone. “I’ll have to call you back.”
He disconnected and turned his focus back to Donna. He raised an eyebrow, signaling his impatience.
“One of our friends from the police station told me to let you know something on the hush-hush.” Donna was allowed to assume they had an in with the station because of the power plant being a high-value target for attack. “They’re calling in the National Guard, something about a serial killer’s graveyard on a mountain.”
“Why are we going to base?” Sunny asked for the third time since he’d told her they needed to throw on their clothes ASAP and meet with the military security police.
Not that he’d answered her the other two times, beyond saying it had to do with the search for Ted and Madison’s bodies. She wouldn’t have gone anywhere else with him, otherwise. She’d been away from home long enough. But the need to find out more about Ted and Madison’s disappearance was too strong for her to bail out now.
Clothes tossed on haphazardly, she thrust her arms into her parka and followed him down the last flight of stairs leading out of his top-floor apartment. Chewie’s paws click, click, clicked double time behind her.
“Wade?” she demanded for the fourth time and counting.
He zipped his parka without missing a step on his way toward the looming front door ahead. “It will all make sense when we get there. I don’t want to give the wrong impression until we have all the facts.”
Dim morning sun filtered through the frosted glass around the door. A second-floor resident in the restored house peered out into the hall, a woman wearing a man’s bathrobe. The door closed quickly as the disheveled lady ducked back inside.
Enough. Breathlessly, Sunny stopped on the bottom step, gasping in air cooler than the apartment, but nowhere near what they would both face outdoors.
And wasn’t that a metaphor for this whole moment? She had one chance, one second, to segue herself from being a part of the amazing connection they’d shared upstairs—and bursting out into the cold harsh reality. She’d experienced a once-in-a-lifetime night with him, and while she’d known it had to end, it was being stolen from her too quickly, too abruptly.
Chewie stopped alongside her by the rows of brass mailboxes for the apartments above, his furry bulk offering unfailing support as always. “Damn it, Wade, do you really expect me to follow you without question?”
He pivoted hard and fast, his face tight. “If you want unconditional honesty and explanations, then that street runs two ways, baby. Feel free to join in.”
His words smacked her with their fierceness—and truth. She was holding back, expecting things from him that she wasn’t willing to give in return. And right here, right now, as she stared at his strong and honorable face she wondered if maybe, just maybe, a decade and a half of silence could be shared.
As the scent of bacon and eggs from a nearby breakfast wafted into the empty hall, she swallowed hard, trying to find the words. She hesitated an instant too long.
Wade nodded shortly, pulling his hood up. “That’s what I thought.” He threw open the door to a covered walkway connected to the stretch of garages. “We need to leave.”
Her feet leaden with regret, she started after him. By the time they finished on base, the money would have been wired from her brother. The gym provided a cover of anonymity for him in transferring funds. She’d hoped to spend the morning losing herself and her fears with Wade in his bed, maybe in his shower. But that wasn’t going to happen.
She braced herself for the first blast of morning air as she stepped outside. Chewie whimpered beside her.
Her gloved hand fell to her dog’s head. “I know, buddy. It’ll be okay.”
Waiting by the garage as Wade rolled up the door and headed in to warm the engine, she looked up at the morning sky to blink away surprising tears. Blues and purples blurred together as the morning fought the night for dominance. The world was waking slowly around her with the echo of engines running, other dogs barking in the distance. The scent of coffee carried from the mom-and-pop diner across the street. A snowplow chugged and she stepped out of the way to avoid the slosh of sludge.
The world was so damn normal. Busier than her kind of normal, but still… Things felt safe here. Nice.
Chewie whined again, tugging on her jacket, pulling toward the house again.
“I know it’s cold. We’ll be in the truck in a minute. See”—she pointed—“here comes Wade now.”
The midnight blue Chevy backed from the garage, stopping, idling. Wade launched out of his side and walked to hers. The quaint, gentlemanly gesture stabbed at her already tender heart. She started toward the vehicle.
Chewie growled lowly, a feral, fierce sound she’d only heard once before when she’d come across a baby bear by a melting pond. Muscles bunched under his thick fur with only a second’s warning that he was about to—
Her dog raced across the icy road in a blur of black-and-white. Straight toward a man across the street, an anonymous blob of parka with a huge hood shading his face as he stood in front of the diner. He looked like countless other people bundled up, but the full facial covering seemed suddenly sinister.
If Chewie attacked—her sweet gentle pet that had never hurt a soul—he might well sign his own death warrant.
“No!” she screamed for her dog, to the man, desperate to stop the horror unfolding inexplicably before her. “Chewie, come!”
A car turned the corner by the diner, fishtailing, sliding straight toward her dog. Without thinking, she shot forward, her boots slipping, but she wasn’t going down. She waved her arms, trying to snag the driver’s attention, warn her dog, do something to stop this nightmare from unfolding.
Two big hands—Wade’s—stopped her short and she toppled backward into the slush, helpless to do anything but watch as he sprinted forward, toward her dog. In front of the car. The world merged into sounds and shapes.
Wade’s big body diving through the air toward the dog.
He knocked Chewie out of the way just as the bulk of the rusted red sedan blocked all else from sight as it slid sideways. Out of control. Careening straight for the man in the oversized parka. The scream froze in Sunny’s throat as she stared across the street at the terror-filled eyes of a man realizing he was about to die.
The eyes of a man she knew.
Chaotic noise echoed, crunching metal and the horrible sound of flesh meeting death as the sedan flung the man’s body into the air before crashing through the facade of the breakfast shop. Then silence. Across the street, Wade unwrapped himself from around her dog. Thank God, thank God, both still alive.
Her eyes darted to the middle of the road where the other man lay, his legs twisted at an unnatural angle, his hood back. His face was clear. She sunk onto her haunches, stunned, horrified. It hadn’t been her imagination. She stared in shock at the familiar face, the last one she expected to see ever again. Only a hand’s reach away from her lay…
The dead body of Deputy Rand Smith.
Rolling to rest against an icy stop sign, Wade shook his head clear. Adrenaline stinging his veins, he scoured the growing crowd for Sunny. Her dog’s heart pounded steadily under his hand as the mutt sat up carefully. No blood. Just chunks of snow in Chewie’s fur. Not surprising, since Wade’s cheek stung from contact
with the ice.
He worked his own shoulder gingerly and all seemed intact as he shoved to his feet, still searching the swelling throng. And there she was, holding onto a telephone pole, pale but in one piece. He reeled with relief.
Thank God. He hadn’t realized until that moment that his heart was lodged somewhere in his throat. He never, never lost his edge in a crisis. His job demanded cool and calm. He forced his pulse to steady.
The wrecked car jutted from the mom-and-pop diner, steam from the hood encompassing the scene. Bricks and glass littered the sidewalk. People poured through the door, pulling on coats, some crying.
Professional instincts kicked in. He needed to check for injured bystanders. Onlookers had circled in the middle of the street, usually a sign of something bad. He shouldered through the gawking throng, parting the crush one determined step at a time.
“Coming through. I’m a medic. Step aside, please.”
The wall of people parted to reveal… a man in massive snow gear lying on the iced road. The individual appeared to be in his thirties, and not likely to get any older. His neck and left leg were twisted at an unnatural angle.
And the corpse’s blue eyes stared sightlessly at the morning sky. Damn. Wade dropped to his knees to check for a pulse, already knowing he wouldn’t find one. No matter how many times he faced death, it still resonated in his gut.
Even CPR couldn’t bring this one back.
Shooting to his feet, he shifted his attention to the vehicle in the diner. Two people were closing in on the teenaged driver already stepping out of the car, one of the individuals wearing a firefighter’s uniform. The firefighter must have been having breakfast before or after her shift. Either way, the gangly teenage driver—who ironically didn’t appear to have a scratch on him—was being taken care of.