Her voice cracked for the first time. Her pain stabbed clean through him. A fissure opened wide and kept cracking, his world coming apart of the seams. He dropped to his knees in front of her, desperate to make her understand.
“I love you, Andrea. Anything I’ve done I did for you, to get you the best doctors, the most cutting-edge new treatments. I want to take you to Europe.” He rested his hands on her useless legs, which had once climbed mountains and tackled ski slopes with ease. “Even if you never walk again—and I’m praying you do—with the money I’ve made, we can go back to the way things used to be. We can still travel the world, still have adventures.”
Her face creased with… pity? “You may have fooled yourself that you did this for me, Brett, but you did it for yourself. So you don’t have to give up the ‘adventures’ now that I can no longer go with you.”
After all he’d done, all he’d given up for her, this accusation cut the deepest.
“God, Andrea, don’t say that. Do I want you out of that wheelchair? Of course. Do I wish that awful, awful accident had never happened? Every second of every day. But you have to know that I love you.”
“And I love you for what we once shared,” she answered without hesitation. “But I can’t live with someone who would plan something like this, somebody who would risk so many lives. I can’t spend the rest of my life knowing what you’ve done and living off the money you made from the pain, the suffering, the blood of others. And if you knew me at all, you would realize that.”
She was serious. Dead serious.
However much she’d learned of his plans beyond the power plant, she’d figured out enough to put him in jail. She knew enough to connect him to murders. His pulse nearly pounded out through his eyes. Frustration roared through him, rage, years’ worth. He’d been able to survive this frozen-in-time existence because he had a plan to get himself and Andrea out. He wouldn’t be stuck forever working in a f**king cubicle, told to be grateful because he had a tiny-ass window and two real walls to tack up a picture and some antlers.
Trapped. He felt completely trapped like an animal. He was even panting like a dog. He was losing Andrea. He was losing Europe.
“Andrea”—his voice came out a hoarse croak—“after all I’ve done for you, for our future, you’re going to spit on my devotion to you?”
“Oh God, Brett. You just don’t get it. Because I love you, I’ve arranged it so you have a four-hour window to leave ahead of the police.”
Four hours? It wasn’t much, but maybe he could still pull this off. He sagged with relief. “Then it’s not too late for us to—”
“Oh, no, it’s too late to stop the notifications I’ve sent out to more than one person. I wanted to make damn sure the truth got out. I wasn’t risking the possibility that you may have someone on your payroll that I haven’t uncovered yet.” She touched his hand, her face pulling tight with the first signs of real regret, even tears. “If you turn yourself in to the police, I will stay by your side, without fail. I will support you through the trial, through jail time, and if, Lord willing, you should ever see daylight again, I will be here waiting for you. If you make this right.”
Nothing would ever be right again. He couldn’t even bring himself to speak. He just stared at his wife, absorbing the beauty of her fine features, her ivory complexion, because he would never see her again.
“But if you walk out that door, Brett, if you run, you and I are finished. I will not follow you. And if you are captured, I will not so much as lay eyes on you again.”
He knew without a doubt that she meant every word.
His heart was cleaved in half. She’d offered him two impossible options. Lose her or go to prison. Hell on earth either way. His grief turned to fury over her putting him in this position. Really no choice at all.
He would have to leave. Gamble everything on saving his ass and making it out of the country with what he’d saved. Gamble that maybe time would soothe Andrea’s fury. Because no matter what she said, a strong woman like that would never want a man behind bars. How would she respect him?
Four hours? Once he picked up his stash of cash and thumb drives of data tucked away at the power plant, he would be on a private aircraft out of here in three.
The whap, whap, whap of helicopter blades in the distance cut the night.
Standing in the middle of Main Street with the rest of the community, Wade tipped his ear to the wind and listened to the approaching chopper. Yes, an MH-60, just as he expected. And making good time. Less than two hours had passed since Misty and Flynn had rushed out to the hot springs retreat.
Any thoughts of romance and winning Sunny over with tantric sex had been put on hold. Thanks to the senior Everett’s satellite phone, Wade had been able to make contact with his base directly, speaking with both McCabe and their OSI contact who’d first questioned Sunny. Then Misty had forwarded all emails to a secure address via a secure cell phone link provided by the OSI.
The pieces had slid together quickly and neatly.
They were now racing against time to stop an attack on a major power plant on the Alaska Peninsula. Some group in this community was involved in making a statement in a very dangerous manner. Local police had been alerted and a military helicopter would transport them for on-site questioning.
A piercing light from above split through the dark. A searchlight from the approaching helicopter strobed over the crowd of people, some still wearing their pajamas under parkas. The helicopter banked toward the open patch of ground, a park beside the frozen river.
Sunny shivered in spite of the layers of clothes she wore now. She’d twisted her damp hair up in a knot and covered it with her hood, insisting she didn’t want to waste even a second—or be left behind while they made the call.
He slid his arm around her shoulders. “Hang tough. Help is on the way.”
“It’s not that. I know we’ll have the best of the best protection. I understand this is what needs to happen.” She crossed her arms tightly over her chest as the chopper settled into a hover. “I just feel like I’m in the middle of that old movie about aliens, the one called something like Close Encounters. There’s a big scene where the spaceship from another world comes in and everyone is staring up, gawking.”
The roar and wind of the choppers beating blades cut the air louder, louder still, until Wade had to duck his head to her ear in order to be heard.
“Aliens are not going to take over your town.” He held her closer. “This is about keeping people alive and stopping an attack on a major facility.”
“I know this is bigger than my worries about a changing way of life. I just can’t believe I’m in the middle of such a horrible crime.” She shielded her eyes against the searchlight. “I just want life to be good old boring and normal again.”
The military chopper descended, the rotor wash of air stirring a ministorm. Snow swept outward, flakes and flecks of ice biting into his skin.
As Sunny grew paler beside him, he thought it was probably best not to tell her. For him, this was normal.
Sunny felt as if she were in the middle of an old war film.
Strapped into the cavernous hold of the helicopter, she wore a helmet plugged into the central intercom system. At least three different conversations buzzed through. The pilots went back and forth about air speeds and headings. Something called “command post” added in weather and cautions. And then there were the people in back periodically piping in with everything else, yammering up the air waves. Roaring helicopter engines capped off the whole cacophony.
Like in the movies, all the big guns to save the day were geared up and ready for action. She felt… superfluous. She couldn’t stand the sense of helplessness. She wasn’t that kind of person. She needed to be able to do something. She had to contribute, to help put a stop to the horrible thing that had been planned right under her very nose for God only knew how long.
Her head was already spinning after how quickly things had happened—the helicopter landing, loading up her, Wade, Misty, and Flynn. Apparently people in her community, people she’d known and trusted, wanted to blow up a power plant and were hours away from making that happen.
She looked around at the packed webbed seats and recognized Wade’s PJ team from the mountain rescue when Deputy Smith had tried to mow them down. And the agent from the air force’s OSI who’d questioned her was at work with some handheld device, scrolling and typing. She struggled for his name… Special Agent Lasky.
Bracing against the inevitable chill, she reminded herself he was one of the guys in white hats now. Could her brother possibly be involved in something this horrific? Would the OSI—would Wade—even believe her when she told them she truly had no idea where Phoenix and Astrid may have gone?
Wade leaned into her line of sight as if sensing her fears. His mouth moved as he spoke, but she couldn’t make out what he said.
She felt like her sister right after she’d lost her hearing, first trying to read lips. “I can’t understand you with all these voices in the headset.”
“Here then. I’ll swap to interphone, just us back here.” A click cleared away the voices of the pilots and the tower until only Wade remained. “Is that better?”
“Much. Thanks.” The silence felt exaggerated after the bombardment of so much noise. She looked around at the other passengers again and they all still seemed oblivious. Catnapping. Reading. Just hanging out, and in no way showing the magnitude of what waited for them once they landed.
“What do you need?” Wade asked.
“Isn’t there something I can do? Talk to the agent over there? Tell him more about the possible players? There has to be something.”
Wade rested his broad hand on her knee and squeezed lightly. “We’ve got it from here. I just want to see you and your sister safely settled.”
Safely settled? “I thought you brought us along because we know the community.”
“Flynn can help with that. Things could get really crazy down there if we can’t stop the explosion in time. In order to focus, I need to know that you’re locked down tight.”
Surprise sparked through her. He really intended to shuttle her aside to some quiet little room at the station, or maybe he even planned to plop her in a hotel with a guard, for crying out loud. Anger flushed through her like splashes of red in the northern lights. “Wade, we’ve worked together for this whole week, helping each other stay a step ahead of whatever’s going on.”
He squeezed her knee a little tighter. “Sunny—”
She pushed his hand away. “Don’t you dare think you can just distract me with a little sweet talk and stirring up my hormones again, Wade Rocha.” She cut him short, on a roll and needing to be heard. “I may be from a small rural area and not some badass warrior, but that doesn’t mean I’m less capable than you—”
A sneeze cut through the airwaves.
Wade stared back at her. And he hadn’t sneezed.
She looked around quickly at a cargo hold of people working very hard not to make eye contact with her. Her gaze finally settled on the quiet, moody PJ, the one they called Bubbles. He had his hand over his mouth, his thumb and forefinger pinching his nose.
Bubbles glanced up slowly, brooding eyes at half-mast. “’Scuse me.”
His two clipped words came through her headset loud and clear.
Jerking back toward Wade, she glared accusingly. “I thought this was a private line.”
He scratched his jaw. “Private for all of us in the back. I tried to tell you.”
The older guy—McCabe—stood abruptly. “Heads up. All ears cue in. Chopper’s entering the approach pattern to land. We’ll be rolling out right into the parking lot of the power plant. A SWAT team is already on-site. FBI is on their way.”