Ex-FBI agent Cody O'Brien lives a quiet life in Northern California. Self-sufficient and content, she provides a good home for herself and her eight-year-old son, Ryan. But all of that is shattered when Ryan is kidnapped is broad daylight....
Cody's greatest fear is knowing the true motive behind the abduction. For her entire life is a lie - one so easily exposed, and so very dangerous. A woman of hard-earned courage, she escaped the killers responsible for her husband's murder - and learned to start over. Failed by the Witness Protection Program, she trusts only herself to save her son. Now she's on the run again-and heading blindly toward a past that wants only one thing from her: cold-blooded revenge.
Release date: March 25, 2015
Publisher: Saddle Peak Entertainment
Print pages: 406
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The acrid taste of ash was gritty on her tongue. Heat trapped her like a burning timber on her chest. The one thing missing was the shriek of the smoke detector. It sat silent above, the unlit light a dull red through the smoke. There would be no alarms, no quick response of fire engines. They would have made sure. And yet, despite that, Megan Riggs felt an almost giddy sense of relief. It was over. They had come and now she would test the plan she had mapped out day after day and week after week. The only thing causing the dense thunking in her chest as she rolled off the bed and onto the floor was Ryan. She had to get to Ryan.
She waved at the smoke that clouded her vision. She focused on movement, letting her mind roll over the realities.
She refused to die. For Ryan's sake, for Mark's sake, she wouldn't give up. Sweat already beading on her lip, she swallowed another mouthful of thick, smoky air and pushed forward. She pulled the gun from the spot between the mattress and the old rotting box spring and checked that it was loaded. Then she towed herself along the floor with her moist hands, wiping them on her side as she went. In the distance, she heard the wail of the Devereaux's baby downstairs and the commanding shouts of Jack directing his family out of the lower level of the house. She couldn't go out the main door. That would make it too easy for them.
She quickly tied a discarded T-shirt from the floor over her face to ease her breathing and moved like a choking lizard. She and Ryan needed to be long gone before the fire department got here.
Flames had begun to eat her blue-and-yellow floral wallpaper on the far side of her bedroom, and she scrambled faster to escape the chunks of fiery plaster falling from the ceiling. Heat singed her leg as a flame caught the pant leg of her sweats. She spun around and pounded the fire out with a shoe from the ground, breathless and shaking.
Pressing forward, her fingers found the backpack she'd prepared for such an occasion under her dresser, and she yanked it toward her, continuing across the room on her stomach. Ryan. She had to get Ryan.
Her hands were black from soot and it was already clinging in her throat and nose. The smoke seemed to sink lower with each motion, and she knew it wouldn't be long before it smothered her. She reached for the doorknob and prayed the heat hadn't warped the door.
It was cooler than she'd expected. The fire must have been started in the living room. Tucked in the small bedroom at the back of the house by the bathroom, Ryan would be safe. He would be okay. Losing Mark had been bad enough. She couldn't bear to lose them both.
Curving her fingers along the underside of the door, she pulled it open. The door stuck and then released as a rush of smoke covered her. She guarded her nose and mouth with the T-shirt, coughing, and pushed herself onward.
Closing the door behind her to slow the spread of fire, she scrambled on her hands and knees down the short hallway. The heat scalded her skin and face.
She couldn't take any risks. She had the training for this sort of situation. It'd been fifteen years since she trained to be an agent—fifteen years since she'd been made to shoot and run and swim and complete the obstacle course, but she had been convinced it would all just come back. And it had.
The smoke's dark clouds were illuminated by the flames, which were beginning to lick the floor beneath the bedroom door behind her. The heat and smoke made it hard to see shapes, so she followed the floor with her palms. The thought of her five-year-old son sitting in his bedroom, terrified, made her almost desperate to scream out to him. But she wouldn't. She wouldn't risk letting someone know that she was alive. “I'm coming, baby,” she whispered instead.
She longed to hear him whimpering in the distance, awakened from one of his terrible dreams. His room was too far. She had always hated how the two bedrooms were laid out at opposite ends. But of the apartments she'd seen, this had been the best. Her meager salary didn't afford her much in the way of choice. She'd anticipated this moment, needing to get to him in an emergency. She would do it.
She reached Ryan's room and saw him, facedown on the floor.
“No,” she said in a sob, pulling him toward her.
“Ryan.” She turned him over and lifted his head onto her lap and felt for the pulse in his throat. It was there, strong and solid. Thank God. He'd fallen from the bed, maybe passed out from the smoke, but he was alive. Now she needed to get them out of here.
She paused, wondering if her plan would work. She caught herself and forced the doubt from her mind. She'd practiced this from start to finish dozens of times. Only she'd never had Ryan with her.
She moved them toward the small balcony that was supposed to be a monument to the French in old New Orleans. She'd warned Ryan never to go out there. She hadn't been sure it would hold them both. Now she knew it was their only chance.
Taking Ryan with one arm, Megan sucked in a deep breath and slid them along the floor to the window. Her eyes closed against the fierce heat and smoke, she moved cautiously until she felt the wall against her outstretched hand. She dropped her face and sucked in a deep breath and then forced air into Ryan's lungs with CPR.
“Hang in there, buddy. We're going to make it.” They had to survive.
She found the handle to the old balcony door and pulled off the two-by-four she'd used to block Ryan from climbing out. On the far side of the balcony was a small ledge. Beyond that, there was a narrow stretch of roof that would get them to the building next door. From there, they could traverse to the building farther down where the car was parked.
The window's glass was cool against her fingertips and she could almost feel the fresh air outside. Using the edge of Ryan's blanket, she cranked down the latch and pushed the old window out. The hinges squeaked but released. She stepped out first, testing the balcony before pulling Ryan out with her.
He was heavy and her biceps ached immediately from the weight of him, but there wasn't time to adjust the load. Instead she pushed the window shut again, and, gripping Ryan with one arm and the ledge with the other hand, she made her way across the narrow landing. She could hear the steady rasp of Ryan's breathing in her ear, and it was all she needed to push her onward. Her body pressed to the wall, she crept until she could feel the old ladder to the roof against her shoulder.
From the direction of a window in the building across the street, she heard the rough tones of male voices. She pressed herself against the building, fighting the tremors in her legs and hands.
She knew the harsh Russian accent. She could picture the faces. She'd been waiting for this for two years. And finally, they were here to finish off the business Oskar Kirov had threatened.
You will pay. You and your son will pay for my son's death. I don't care how long it takes.
Forcing herself forward, she lifted Ryan up over her left shoulder and stepped onto the first rung of the fire escape toward the roof. Down below, she could hear the fire engines arrive. She could now see two men standing in a window across the street, pretending to watch the fire. Megan recognized their light hair and angular faces. They were Oskar Kirov's remaining sons. The building cool on her back, she forced a breath. The small balcony outside Ryan's room was hidden from their view, but it wouldn't be long before they realized she wasn't inside her apartment. She only wished the engines had been slower to arrive.
Moving more quickly, she pulled them up the ladder, rung by rung. Her hands were soot-covered and slipped against the old iron. Her arm and back muscles burned, and she tucked her elbow under one of the rungs to leverage her back strength and continue upward. She heard the ladder make a deep moaning sound beneath her and she blinked hard, praying it would hold. It moaned again and she pulled them up another rung. She looked up. Two more. Ryan coughed and she felt his head lift off her shoulder. “Mom?”
Afraid he would look down and yell, Megan hurried to push herself off the last step and sprang for the edge of the roof. She laid Ryan down on the gravel surface of the roof.
His face was covered with soot, but she kissed his cheek and whispered to him, “Come on, buddy.”
Ryan opened his eyes and coughed again and Megan helped him sit up. “Are they here to get us. Mom?”
As he opened his mouth to talk, Megan pulled him close and hugged him. “We're going to be fine.”
He looked around and rubbed his eyes. “They found us, didn't they?”
She nodded. “We can't talk now, baby. We need to change our clothes and get out of here. Remember the plan we talked about?”
Ryan looked around the roof. “Are they going to kill us like Daddy?”
She shook her head and touched his hair, his beautiful blondish brown hair. “No way, baby. Not us. But we have to be quiet now. Okay?”
The resignation in his face made Megan want to cry. “Okay, Ryan,” she said, pulling a change of clothes from her pack. “Put these on.”
Megan took jeans from the backpack for herself and lay on her back, pulling off her sweatpants and replacing them with jeans. She lifted her dirty shirt over her head and dropped it on the roof, pulling on a plain gray sweatshirt and tucking the gun into her pants. She added a Gap ball cap and turned to help Ryan. He was already dressed. He was too grownup for five. She tied his shoelaces and looked at his dirty face. Using the edge of her sleeve, she cleaned him up as much as possible.
Then, stuffing their nightclothes back in the bag, she took his hand and pulled him across the roof.
She had money tucked away in a safe-deposit box at a bank thirty miles outside of town under a new name, a name that had been chosen for her years before by Mark, just in case. Once she had that, they were leaving Louisiana.
The FBI had hidden Ryan and her, given them new names, a home. James, they'd called Ryan. And she'd been Mary. Mary and James Hall. Friends she'd trained with, worked with, had sworn they'd be safe. Three months had passed before she'd started to feel Kirov—watching her, waiting.
Paranoid, she'd told herself. Delusional. Tired and worn down from the hours of secretarial work at Tulane University, of trying to help her then three-year-old son understand why he couldn't use his real name, why his daddy didn't come home, why he would never come home again.
At the edge of the first building, she lifted Ryan across the two-foot gap. “Don't look down,” she told him. With her holding on, he reached the other side and pulled himself over without ever looking down.
She jumped across and quickly scanned the roof for assailants. Finding none, she rushed onward, Ryan in tow.
“Good job, baby. You're doing great.”
Ryan looked behind them again and kept moving.
Just then she heard the distant sounds of breaking glass and curses in the familiar language. She thought the sounds came from the balcony of her apartment.
Ryan was shaking, but she put an iron fist to her own fear. “It's okay,” she whispered, pushing him ahead.
She led them to the door at the center of the third roof, tucking Ryan to her side to guard him against any attacks. Pulling out her lock-picking tools, she put them in the lock of the door to the roof access and worked them around as she'd done fifty times before in preparation for this night. The lock clicked open with ease. Pulling the door open, she helped Ryan through and locked the door from the inside.
On the ground floor, she entered the main corridor, looking in both directions before stepping out and opening the door to the basement garage. She took the last flight of stairs, knowing the most difficult part started now.
Inside the garage, she found the 1988 Toyota Corolla that she'd bought for a thousand dollars and kept unregistered in this garage. She never drove it except to let the engine run so it wouldn't be dead when they needed it. She ran her hand along the bumper until she felt the small magnetic box that held the key. She opened the back door first and squeezed Ryan's hand. “Remember how we practiced?”
“Are they coming after us, Mommy? The men who killed Daddy?”
Megan blinked. “No, baby. We're going to be fine. You trust me?”
Ryan nodded silently and curled into a ball in the car, pulling the blanket from the floor over himself.
Megan smiled. “Perfect. We're almost done.”
From under the front seat, she pulled out a small bag and dumped the contents on the seat beside her. She put on the gray wig and Irish golf hat and pressed the mustache and beard against her mouth as she had in each practice. Then, making sure her own hair was hidden under the wig, she started the engine.
“You okay back there, buddy?”
“Yeah,” came the muffled reply. “Good luck, Mommy.”
Megan blinked hard. “Here we go. I'll let you know when the coast is clear.”
Ryan didn't respond. For some kids, this would have been a fun game. For Ryan, fear had become his existence. He knew this was how he'd lost his father. Enough of that. The FBI had failed her, but Megan would create her own witness protection program. Ryan would never have to go through anything like this again. She would make sure of it.
Three Years Later
Cody O'Brien pulled herself into her final sit-up. “Two-fifty” she breathed, wiping her forehead with her sleeve. Rolling onto her stomach, she pressed twenty-five push-ups to complete her round.
She heard the familiar ding of E-mail and stood up from the nine-by-nine rug where she worked out, then crossed the room to the computer and desk that were her office. Three years ago, she never would have imagined life could feel good again. Now, working as a programmer and consultant from home for start-ups in Silicon Valley, Cody had everything she could want for herself and Ryan. R.J., she reminded herself, still fighting calling her son something other than his natural name. Cody, on the other hand, had started to grow on her.
Most of her mail, including her paychecks, came addressed to “Mr. Cody O'Brien.” And that was perfect for her. She didn't want to be known. Her jobs were booked through a referral service with whom she'd interviewed three years ago. Almost none of her work was done over the phone and none was in person. It was part of her stipulation. It would have sounded bizarre in the traditional business world, but techies were weird and untraditional; everyone knew it.
She touched her mouse and stared at the request for a follow-up on some work she'd done a few months back. She sat down and typed a quick message to indicate her schedule was open for the work and sent it off. Glancing at her watch, she ran through the office door and up the short flight of stairs into R.J.'s room.
“Sleepyhead, it's time to get up.”
The denim lump in the bed moaned and then rolled over.
Cody sat on the edge of the bed, prying the covers out of her son's hands and exposing his face. He squinted at the light and rolled over again, burying his nose in his pillow. Watching him struggle with the mornings always made Cody think of his dad. She tickled him, and he bucked and laughed.
“Come on, up and at 'em.”
He rubbed his eyes with balled fists, and Cody could still picture him as an infant doing that same thing. “Can I stay home with you today?”
She shook her head. “No way.”
“Ah, Mom.” He groaned and tried to dig his way back under the covers. “It's too cold to go to school.”
“Too cold? This is California. It's warm here.”
“Uh-uh. It's freezing.”
“Then you'll have to wear a turtleneck and sweater.” Cody stood and stripped the bed, so he had nowhere to hide. “Up, soldier. Right now. I'll make pancakes if you promise to be downstairs in ten minutes. Plus, it's Friday.”
“It's Friday?” R.J. sat up in bed. “I'm playing with Peter Landon after school today.”
“Okay.” Peter Landon had become R.J.'s best friend over the past year. She kept hoping the choice would change, but she shouldn't have complained. Most people would be thrilled to have their son play with Travis Landon's son. Landon was an extremely successful entrepreneur. His first company, Web-Mast, had been a small, unlikely start-up ten years ago. Less than five years ago he'd sold the Web browser software to Yahoo!
Landon's more recent start-up, TecLan, was about to put revolutionary new Web page software on the market. Despite one pesky glitch in testing, the TecLan Pro software was supposed to be the best. And Travis Landon himself was probably worth $100 million on a bad day.
She'd done some work for him here and there, and she saw him often enough when he came to pick up Peter in the evenings. One of those nights, he'd asked her out. She'd had a glass of wine after a long day and had let herself enjoy his easy banter. Pretty soon they were laughing, and he'd suggested dinner. A casual enough proposition, but she'd turned him down flat. Men, and especially high-profile men, were not in her future.
And she would have preferred R.J. had chosen a lower-profile friend. There was still at least an article a week on Landon, his dual life as CEO and single parent, although she'd noticed more of them had started to focus on the software glitch, but that was typical media.
Cody crossed the room, glancing at the computer with the bright fish floating across the screen. Beside it was a stack of computer games. She picked up the one on top: Rogue Warrior. “Don't forget to return his game to him when he's here tonight.”
“I won't, Mom. We borrow all the time. He even loant—loaned me his Chicago Bulls jacket.”
She ran her hands over the jacket on the back of the chair. “It's nice, but be careful not to get anything on it.”
“Yeah.” R.J. swung his feet onto the floor and rolled his eyes at her warning.
Cody launched herself at her son, knocking him back onto the bed and tickling him until he was howling.
“Uncle, uncle,” R.J. screamed.
Cody rolled off and R.J. promptly started to tickle her. She rolled back and forth, pretending to try to escape him until he finally stopped and they were both breathless.
“You've got roots.”
Cody sat up and looked at her son's dark hair. They were light-haired naturally, but she and R.J. had been dyeing their hair since they'd left New Orleans. “Guess it's time for a root party.”
“Can we have root-beer floats?”
“Of course. And beetroots.”
R.J. scrunched his nose. “I didn't like the beetroots. How about root-beer candy?”
“Sounds good. How about we do it tonight?”
R.J. turned his back to her. “Not tonight, Mom.”
Cody went around and sat beside him. “Why not?”
“Cause I want to play with Peter.”
Cody shrugged. “I thought we could do it after he leaves. Or we can do it tomorrow. Did you want Peter to spend the night?”
R.J. stared at his feet. “That's the thing, Mom. I want to go to his house.”
Cody flinched. “No way.”
R.J. leaped to his feet. “Mom, he's got the new Sony system.”
She stood up. “You can play Nintendo Sixty-four instead.”
“Yes.” She was through discussing it. She started for the door.
“But he has a pool.”
The image made her shudder. She'd had a bad pool accident as a child, and she hated the thought of him in the water almost as much as anything else. “No.” She disliked the water herself, but in training as an agent, she'd spent plenty of time in it. Eventually she'd learned to set aside her fears when swimming was necessary, but she hadn't been in water since she left the Bureau.
“I'm a good swimmer, Mom.”
It was true. He swam like Mark had, as though he'd been born for the water. But thinking about it, even more than watching it, terrified her.
“I went there last time and it was fine.”
“Not overnight, you didn't.”
“I'm eight years old, Mom. You can't hide me here forever,” Ryan said in a defiant voice.
His words knocked the wind out of her. She turned back. “Ryan, we've talked about that. You know why.”
“I know about Dad and everything.” He waved his hand. “But no one knows who we are. I've never said a word—ever. I'm really careful, Mom, I swear.”
She shook her head.
“Mom, please. I hate always asking kids here. And Peter is really cool. I feel like a dork asking him to always come to my house.” Ryan gave her the wide-eyed look that had been his father's. “And you know Mr. Landon—he's real responsible.”
Cody sank into Ryan's desk chair, deflated.
“I'm going to have to do it sometime, Mom. How would I go to college?”
She smiled at the image of her eight-year-old in college, but she knew he was right. She couldn't keep him under her wing forever. But she could keep him there longer. “We'll talk when you're ready for college.”
“Mom!” Ryan launched himself off the bed toward her. “I want to go tonight. Come on.”
She shook her head. With that, she stood and walked out of the room. “I'll see you downstairs in ten minutes for pancakes.”
He didn't answer her, but she hadn't expected him to.
As soon as she reached the kitchen, Ryan called down to her, “Mr. Landon wants to talk to you, Mom. He's on the phone.” She frowned at the kitchen phone as though it were hosting bacteria.
“This isn't going to work,” she called back to him before picking up the receiver. She hated the phone. She didn't have friends, wasn't allowed to communicate with her family, and all her work correspondence was done via E-mail. It had been hard at first. She'd occasionally lifted the receiver and started to dial one of her sisters before realizing she could no longer talk to them.
She remembered the last time she'd spoken to her family on the phone. It had been set up as a safe call from New Orleans, and the thought of that conversation made her ache. They had been such a close family—the house full of the sounds of girls bickering, laughing, and playing. Megan was the second of four girls, only six years between Alison, the oldest, and Nicole, the baby. All of them had stayed in Chicago. But Megan was gone now. There was no Megan—just Cody.
She wondered if they were all still there. How many kids did her sister Alison have? Was Amy married? The last time she'd heard from them Nicole was expecting. They'd all guessed it was a boy. Had it been?
“Mom!” Ryan called. “Phone.”
Cody pushed her family from her mind and picked up the phone. “Hello?” she said.
“Mrs. O'Brien, it's Travis Landon.” He spoke with the same awkward tone she'd heard since her rejection of his dinner offer.
Cody glared in the general direction of her son's room. “Hello.”
“I realized when you were coming to the phone that I don't even know your first name.”
“It's Cody, Mr. Landon,” Ryan added from the extension upstairs.
“Okay, R.J.,” Cody said, “you can hang up now.”
She waited until she heard the click of the extension. “How can I help you, Mr. Landon?”
He paused. “I understand you don't want R.J. to come over tonight. I promised Peter he could. I told the kids I'd pick them up myself and we'd rent Terminator. Are you sure he can't come, Cody? They have such fun together.”
Cody shook her head. “I think it's great that they want to play together. They are welcome to come here if they want to have a sleepover.”
“Of course, but you should let me return the favor. You've had Peter spend the night lots of times.”
“Thank you, but...”
Ryan appeared at the kitchen door, dressed and holding his backpack in one hand and an overnight bag in another. His wide eyes pleaded.
“I promise they'll be fine.”
Cody turned her back to her son and blinked hard, forcing back the fear. “You'll be picking them up from school?”
“At three o'clock on the dot.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head.
“I'll make sure he eats vegetables,” Travis added with casual humor. He had no idea what this could mean.
“I'd prefer they not swim unattended. And it's a bit cold out right now....”
“The pool is closed and the gate is locked. They won't even be near it.”
She blew her breath out. “Have R.J. call me before bed.”
“I will. Peter will be thrilled. And you enjoy the evening alone.”
“Thanks,” she choked, knowing she would do no such thing. She said good-bye, the fear from her days in New Orleans rising to the surface again.
Cody hung up the phone, thinking about how difficult things had been for them. R.J. was her best friend. She couldn't bear it if something happened to him.
No mother and child she knew had ever been through the kind of ordeal they had. And despite her continuing fears, R.J. had finally started to feel comfortable with his school and with his friends.
Cody knew she couldn't let her own fears stand in the way of letting her son have some semblance of a normal childhood.
She turned to Ryan and saw a mirror image of her husband's eyes and the stubbornness in them. Ryan was just like Mark.
“I'll be fine, Mom. I promise.”
She reached out and pulled him to her in a quick hug. “You'd better,” she warned. Then, with an aching breath, she said, “Pour yourself some juice and sit down. I don't want you to be late for school.”
As Cody mixed the batter for pancakes, she watched Ryan pour his juice and sit down at the table. He pulled open the paper and found the comics and began to read. Every motion reminded her of Mark, and pride filled her in a warm rush. She hoped Mark was watching them to see how incredible their son was.
Cody turned to the skillet and poured batter, feeling the heat on her hands and praying she would someday be able to let go of the fear.
Before getting out of her car at the cafe where she was to meet Dmitri, Jennifer Townsend popped open the container with gloved hands and took out two small triangular white pills, washing them down with water. Then she opened her compact and checked the bruise around her eye. She wished it would just be gone already. She hated the looks she got and the constant worried coos people made. It was nothing. A little argument, not that she'd tell them that. It wasn't like he meant to do it. She could have knocked him on his ass if she'd wanted to.
But frankly his anger had startled her. And he had a right to be angry. The pressure from his father about Viktor. She knew it made him feel miserable. Viktor. Even dead he was Oskar Kirov's first thought. Dmitri deserved better. She knew. She'd been the second child her whole life. And that was what Dmitri was. Second. Even to a dead first.
She glanced into the compact one last time. The theater makeup she'd been using did a pretty good job of covering it, but you could still see the bluish tint in strong light. She snapped the mirror closed and tucked it back in her purse. The heater was blowing on her feet and she wiggled her toes in her shoes. She leaned her head back and took in a deep breath before opening the car door. Bundling herself up, she wrapped the scarf around her head and zipped up her jacket. She felt the muscles in her neck start to soften and she strode toward the restaurant, anxious for a drink.
Dmitri was sitting at their table, wearing the gray cashmere sweater she'd bought him and black pants. His long black leather coat hung over the chair behind him. He looked positively edible. She tossed her blond hair over her shoulder as his eyes met hers. He smiled and lifted a cosmopolitan toward her. She took it in her gloved hand, clinked her cosmopolitan against his martini, and together they finished the drinks in one toss.
Sitting, she laughed as he leaned across and kissed her softly on the lips.
“Jenichka,” he said. It meant “dear little Jen” in Russian. He spoke to her in Russian, and over the years she'd picked up some of the language. Russian always sounded so sexy to her.
She removed her gloves and laid them on the table beside her.
Dmitri ordered another round of drinks and then took her hands across the table. “You are beautiful, Jenichka.”
She grinned. “I know.”
He let go of one hand and reached into his pocket. “I brought you something.” He pulled out a small red Cartier box with a white ribbon. It was a box every woman in America could appreciate.
He laid it in the palm of his hand, and she noticed how perfectly it fit there. The size of a ring box, maybe slightly larger. No. It couldn't be that. For a moment she was nervous. But she knew Dmitri better. They would be together eventually, but this was not how he would do it.
She laughed at her own ridiculous imagination and reached for the box.
Dmitri snapped his hand shut and she let out a high shriek as he laughed. She laughed again and they repeated the game until the waitress appeared with more drinks. Ruining the moment, the waitress set her cosmopolitan almost under her chin. Dmitri laid the box down and pushed it toward her.
She eyed him with a smile.
She took a sip of her drink and stared at the box.
“Open it,” he insisted, pulling her drink from her fingertips and holding it away from her.
She scooped up the red box with a rush of adrenaline and let the silky white bow slip off between her fingers. She lifted the lid and found a small red velvet pouch resting on a cloud of cotton inside.
She raised an eyebrow as Dmitri leaned in to watch her. “What?”
He rolled his hand to move her along. “I want to see what you think. Hurry up.”
She pulled open the pouch and let the contents slide onto her palm. Three cabochon rings she'd admired in the window once months ago—one sapphire, one emerald, one ruby. She'd never even mentioned them, but he'd been with her, walking down Michigan Avenue, when she'd seen them. She blinked back tears as she lifted them from her palm. “How did you know?”
He smiled and cocked his chin up in triumph. “I was right.”
“I loved them in the window. They're beautiful.”
“I saw you. I was so sure.” He stroked her arm and laughed again. “Then I got nervous. What if you were looking at the diamond stud pin behind them?” He clapped once. “I'm so glad I was right.”
“Of course you were. They're perfect.” She started to slide them on when he stopped her. “There's a special order,” he explained. He laid them on the pouch and picked up the ruby one first and slid it onto her ring finger. “The red is for blood, so it stays close to your skin. The green is for the earth, so it goes next,” he continued, putting the emerald ring on top of the ruby. “Finally, the blue sapphire is for the sky, and it goes on last.”
She smiled and leaned forward to meet his lips. She kissed him. He kissed her back in the same soft way that made her stomach dance. She touched his cheek and tucked her head under his chin. He had known. He'd been the only one who had ever known what her tastes were, who cared enough to pay attention to what she would like.
She sat back up and stared at her outstretched hand. “They're truly beautiful, Dmitri.”
He waved his hand to dismiss it then lifted his glass and raised it toward hers. They clinked and drank again.
She moved her hand to watch the stones catch the light.
“Things are still bad with Papa,” Dmitri said, watching her.
She stilled her hand and focused on him. “I'm sorry.”
He finished the drink, then rubbed his eyes.
“Did you sleep last night?”
He shook his head. “I keep trying to think of ways to find her.” He looked up at her, his eyes pleading.
Then he dropped his gaze to his hand. “I need to get this over with. It's all he talks about. The plans, the business, it's all going to hell because of Viktor.”
She laid her hand on his. It was her fault. Dmitri had never told his father that Jennifer had been the source, but she and Dmitri knew it. He wouldn't mention it, of course, but it was true. She had let the location of the warehouse slip. The drugs were there. It had been a stupid mistake. Megan had never known about Jennifer's affair with Dmitri. She knew better than to admit dating anyone connected to the mob. Dmitri had his own business. He'd been clear about wanting to stay away from his family's mob connections. But then Viktor had been killed and everything had changed. It was getting harder and harder for Dmitri to stay out of it.
But Jennifer had told Megan a story about Viktor Kirov. Viktor was considered quite a playboy in Chicago, and many of his escapades made the society section of the paper despite his questionable business dealings.
When the girls' night out had led to discussions of local bachelors, Jennifer had simply told a story about a friend who had gone to a party at a warehouse with Viktor Kirov. She'd been there too, but she couldn't say that. She was FBI and he was a felon. They'd been drinking, Megan as much as Jennifer, and she'd thought it was all in good fun. Jennifer didn't know Mark Riggs was working a case involving Viktor.
Without even thinking, Jennifer had told Megan all about the warehouse. And Megan had called her husband and used it. Both Mark and Viktor had died that night. Mark's death didn't make Megan's betrayal any easier. And Megan never knew that Viktor's death meant anything to Jennifer. She'd seen Megan only one time after that, at the funeral for Mark. Through it all, Jennifer had held her anger against Megan. It was still there, just under the surface.
At least Dmitri had never been implicated in anything. It was always Viktor. Dmitri ran an importing business—alcohol mostly.
Oskar Kirov wanted Megan Riggs dead.
“I'm working on it.”
He looked up. “I know you are. But he's risking everything on this. Why can't he just let it go?”
She squeezed his hand. “I'll get something soon. I promise.”
He nodded and ran his thumb across her rings. “You should get back.” He pulled a small paper bag from his pocket. “You asked for these.”
She took the bag and put it in her purse.
“I'll see you tonight.”
“It might be late.” She stood and took the box and ribbon and tucked them in her purse, too.
He grabbed her hand. “Not too late, I hope.”
She leaned over and kissed his brow. “Not too. In the meantime, go back to the house and get some rest. We'll order something when I get home.”
He nodded, lost in thought as she left the bar. She looked at her rings in the fading sunlight. They were gorgeous. And what other man would buy his girlfriend Cartier for no occasion?
Back at her car, she opened the door, put her key in the ignition, blasted the heat, and drove three blocks before stopping the car again. She opened the tin of mints she kept in the glove compartment, chewed three until her mouth burned, and then pulled out the plastic pill container from her purse.
She rolled a pill onto her palm and then thought twice and added another. Popping the two into her mouth, she leaned back against the seat and swallowed them dry.
She lifted the pill container and toasted the air in front of her. “You can't hide forever.”
Then she pulled away from the curb and headed to the office. It was late enough in the day now that she hoped to be able to go in without seeing anyone—or at least not anyone important. She hadn't wanted to have to answer questions about her eye. She looked down at her rings and considered again how incredibly thoughtful Dmitri could be. She was lucky to have him.
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