He didn’t like the look of four people confabbing a little too tightly. He didn’t want to take his eyes off them just yet.
“She was over by the docks with her buddy Flynn. I think her sister was beside her, but then a chick in a parka is pretty much a chick in a parka, you know. Sunny with her hood down though? Can’t miss that blue stripe through her hair.”
Franco laughed low. “Better get your eyes off his woman’s stripe or you’re liable to get your ass kicked, old man.”
“Hmmm…” McCabe said. “That’s interesting. Your girl and her pals are taking a ride in one of the fishing boats by the festival. She must be going back to the lodge like you told her.”
He couldn’t imagine her doing that, not after the fire she’d just spit his way. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. “Where’s Lasky? Have they checked this place out? Or are they all still too busy arguing about who’s in control?”
The chatter in his earpiece grew louder, the intensity indicating something was heating up down there. Wade pressed his finger to the device, his buddies beside him going silent too just as Agent Lasky barked through the airwaves.
“Red alert, all eyes and ears up. We’ve got a hostage situation. I repeat, a hostage situation.”
Wade’s instincts blared and his gut clenched with the undeniable surety that Sunny was somehow in danger. As he shot to his feet, charging toward the metal stairs wrapped around the outside, he swept his binoculars around the power plant, praying he would find her…
He swept past Lasky. Then back again sharply, bringing the view in tighter. Flynn and Misty stood with the agents, their hoods down, so there was no mistaking them.
The same two people McCabe had just said he saw with Sunny in a boat.
Sea spray stung Sunny’s face like a thousand frozen needles. She suffered no delusions that these three people wanted to keep her alive. She’d stumbled into their getaway and now she was disposable. It was a race against time for Misty to find help soon enough to save her life.
How had Astrid and Ryker gotten tangled up with this man Brett? She recognized him from their plane trip earlier and shuddered to think she and Wade had been that close to death.
The hull chopped through the waves, farther from the power plant until it was just a speck. Farther and farther the craft raced from Wade and help.
She’d been so naïve to think she could save her sister, but God, how could she have foreseen something this huge? This evil?
And Wade had stood by her through it all. Even when he charged ahead full speed, he was doing it for her. And she’d pushed him away, rather than considering his reasons. He’d been right to be cautious, albeit he could be heavy-handed at times, but given what had happened to his mother, that was understandable.
Morning rays shimmered off the icy bay. Fishing charters in the distance were all oblivious and too far away to signal. Even if Astrid didn’t still have the gun wedged into her side.
Brett eased back on the throttle, the boat slowed, and her heart sped.
Not yet, not yet.
She needed more time. Misty, Wade, the authorities needed more time. Damn it all, she wanted more time with Wade, another chance. She tucked her hand inside her parka to touch the survival knife, strapped to her waist.
One-on-one odds in a fight, she could handle. But three against one was beyond hopeless. The best she could do was stay alive long enough. If they threw her overboard, she would be unconscious in thirty seconds, dead in ninety. Without some kind of protective clothing, she couldn’t survive in the freezing waters.
The boat drifted past a small iceberg, swirling turquoise streaks through the black Alaska waters.
Brett turned from the helm to the others behind him, his face paler where his beard had once been. He was frighteningly normal looking. “This hasn’t gone quite as we planned.”
His hand slid from his pocket, holding a gun.
Her hand clenched tighter around the knife handle as her mind raced for ideas, for anything, but she couldn’t see a way. Her mind filled with images of Wade.
Before she could finish registering that the Beretta had a silencer lengthening the barrel…
Hiss. A bullet ripped through the air. Bracing, Sunny stifled the urge to scream.
Ryker crumpled against the railing, his eyes wide with shock—and lifelessness. His body toppled over and into the water as Astrid’s scream filled the air.
Screw inaction. She wanted that gun. She whipped around—
Brett’s Beretta hissed again.
Astrid jerked, stumbled, then slumped over a seat, the back of her skull covered in blood. Her sister-in-law went limp, so horribly dead, as the weapon tumbled from her limp grip.
Sunny lunged for the gun. A revolver beat a knife, hands down, and this was a fight-to-the-death moment. But Brett scooped it a second ahead of her. Frustration, fear, rage all howled through her in a typhoon of emotions. How could the world just continue to spin so normally in the distance, unaware? Houses on the far shore with families. A news helicopter overhead in search of a story for the 6:00 p.m. news, but flying obliviously past the horror happening here.
“Why are you doing this?” she screamed at him, the boat rocking beneath her feet as she stared down the murderer. “Why did you have to kill them?”
The bastard stood still as an ice sculpture, emotionless after having snuffed out two lives with no explanation. So much for Astrid’s faith in her “partner.”
“Count yourself lucky that I chose you for my hostage, my insurance.” He tapped under her chin with the lengthy barrel before backing up a step and pocketing Astrid’s weapon. “I’m big on having insurance. Accomplices don’t hold much weight with the authorities when it comes to hostage negotiation. Now, get yourself under control and maybe you’ll be able to walk away from this alive.”
At least he was talking instead of driving, killing time instead of people. “How could you just murder them?”
She struggled against distracting thoughts of the two people who’d just been murdered, the mother of her nephew, the young man who’d made them grin with his outlandish conspiracy theories.
Wind whipped past her ears, bringing tears to her eyes.
“Who are you to judge me?” he sneered, grabbing the back of Astrid’s jacket, hauling her up, then flinging her overboard as if she were nothing more than a piece of trash rather than a human being. “You helped your brother hide out for years even though he turned his back on his country.”
“What do you know about my brother?” Please, no more betrayals today. Still, she had to know.
“I know your brother wasn’t man enough to see what was going on right under his nose with his wife. He thought he could sit up there on that mountain and avoid the rest of the world forever. He still does, poor idiot.”
And with those few words he’d put to rest her fears that her brother might be involved, in spite of what Astrid had said. Sunny wouldn’t have covered for him, not on something like this. Maybe not at all, anymore.
“Do you think it’s better to mow down innocent people, disposing of their bodies on a mountain and in the sea?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Keep that up and damn straight you won’t be arguing with me because you’ll be dead. If that damn deputy had done his job right you would be taken care of already, just like he took care of your friends on the mountain. I have that kind of power you know—to decide who lives and dies. Which makes me wonder why you would risk pissing me off.” His eyes narrowed, his Beretta raising back to point dead center at her head.
The feel of cold steel pressed against her skin was an effective reminder of her need to stay calm in the face of hearing how coldly he’d ordered Deputy Smith to execute so many of her friends. To execute her. She needed to think, to stall.
“Wait!” she rushed, wind tearing through her hair much as the fear ripped through her body. Help—Wade—had to be close. “You’re right. You do need a hostage in case they come looking for you. So where are we going? You can’t expect to get away in this boat. The gas will run out.”
Heartbeat tumbling over itself, she was running on adrenaline. Icy waves lashed at the sides of the craft. The backs of her legs pressed against the leather seats behind the captain’s chair.
He lowered the gun from her head. “Have you forgotten already that I’m a pilot as well? Now that I’ve picked up some important data from the plant”—he toe-tapped a slim briefcase under his seat—“I can fly out of here. The people I work for? Well, let’s just say I have some names and records that are very valuable to them. This is my ticket to a lot of money once I land at my final destination on the other side of the Bering Sea.”
Names? Of people involved in the bombing plot? Did he intend to blackmail them? And why would that be valuable to him in Russia? But he made it sound like there was someone higher up the chain.
“How do you intend to get rich off bombing power plants?” She inched her hand back into her parka as if warming herself, all the while listening for the sound of another boat or any sign of help from the shore. Her fingers brushed the handle of the knife. Ready.
“Oh you rustic little bumpkin, just like your two friends there. They were all too willing to help me out, imagining I was every bit as dedicated to their cause as they were. This is so much bigger than that. Now sit back down, right here where I can keep my eye on you. Be a good girl or you’ll be swimming with your friends.”
She dropped into the seat beside him, for now her will to live strong, but her legs still not all that steady. The murderous bastard eased the boat out of idle, and they surged ahead. Sea spray needling the air again, he steered around small icebergs littering their path.
The magnitude of what she faced threatened to overwhelm her. This man was certifiably evil. Her fingers slid around the knife handle again and this time she wouldn’t let go, even for an instant. She had lost any hope that he would let her live, and the farther away they went, the less chance Wade had of saving her. The Bering Sea, the islands, the mountains, all provided vast wastelands in which to dump her body.
No damn way. She wasn’t giving up on life. She wasn’t giving up on a future, a future with Wade, her rock-headed, stubborn, honorable lover. The only man ever to move her all the way to the core of her being. She wanted his body. She admired his integrity.
And just flat out loved Wade, the man.
The nose of the hull smacked a wave, hard, yanking her from her thoughts and jerking Brett’s gun hand for an instant. All the opportunity she needed.
Sunny whipped her hand free, blade reflecting the sun’s rays. She jabbed upward into the bastard’s gut. He stumbled from the steering wheel, the boat screaming forward through the waves. The heated gust of Brett’s shocked “Oomph” washed over her face. His mouth moved soundlessly, a trickle of blood sliding from the corner of his mouth. The gun fell from his slack hand…
Just as the boat rammed into an iceberg.
In the back of the MH-60 Pave Hawk, Wade yanked on his antiexposure suit. Watertight rubber, it resembled the type skin divers used, but cinched in around the neck and feet. He pulled his focus in as tight as the seals on his suit, trying his damnedest to lose himself in training and routine.
Because if he let himself think about Sunny out there with terrorist bombers, with murderers, he would lose his mind.
To his right, Franco tugged on his gear. Out the open side hatch, his other four team members stood on the concrete landing pad by the power plant. It was agreed they would stay behind in case they were needed for triage in the event of an explosion. The bomb had been defused but the bomb squad still hadn’t finished inspecting the entire building. Lasky and the FBI wanted the kidnappers alive for information.
Wade just wanted Sunny.
Thank God for the MH-60 in the lot and years of training at their fingertips. They were in the chopper and ready to lift off in under five minutes. The door closed, sealing him into a dimly lit cocoon of wires and gear, mustiness of old equipment drenched in the fumes from hydraulic fluid. He welcomed the familiar in a day turned upside down.