Authors: Iris Johansen
Tags: #Eve Duncan
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HE WAS READY.
Jim Doane drew a deep breath as he locked the front door of the small cedar house behind him. All the searching and planning was at an end, and now it was time to put the plan into action.
Soon, Kevin. I know it’s been a long time, but I had to be sure before I moved forward. Everything has to be in place.
He threw his suitcase into the trunk of the car, then carried his metal toolbox and shoved it onto the passenger seat. Then he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car.
“Doane, wait.” His neighbor Ralph Hodder was running toward him across the postage stamp–sized lawn that separated their houses. “Did you think you were going to get away before I saw you?” He was breathing heavily as he stopped beside Doane’s car. He was overweight, and even the short run had robbed him of breath. “No way, man.”
“Yeah?” He tensed, then deliberately forced himself to relax. Hodder was no threat. He was overreacting. “Do you need something, Ralph?”
“Yeah, I need to thank you. My son said that you were going to be gone for quite a while, and I just wanted you to know I’d keep an eye on your place.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll miss you. You’ve been a good friend to Matt, a real role model, and Leah and I appreciate it. Raising a teenage kid is always a headache, but having you next door, helping him work on that old car, and letting him talk to you has made it easier.”
“No problem. Matt’s a fine boy, and I was glad to help. In the end, the most precious things we have are our children.”
“You’re right there.” His smile faded. “Matt said you were leaving because you had family trouble. I hope that everything will be okay.”
“It will be fine. But it may take a little while, so I’m grateful that you’re going to watch the place.” He’d better pretend to be concerned. It wouldn’t do to let Hodder know he’d been tempted to burn the place to the ground. “I’ll call you now and then and check on it if that’s all right.”
“We’ll be glad to hear from you. I’ll have Matt cut your grass until you get back.” He stepped back from the car. “You’ve been a great neighbor, Doane. I’ll try to be one, too. Thanks for being good to my son.”
“Take care of that boy,” Doane said as he backed down the driveway. “You never realize how much you love them until you lose them. Believe me, I know.”
But that wasn’t true; he had known how much he had loved his son from the moment he had been born. It hadn’t taken loss to drive that truth home. His Kevin had been extraordinary in every way, and being his father had dominated his life.
Until that bastard had taken away his son.
He controlled the flare of rage that went through him. He could not afford anger now that the game had begun. Everything must go according to plan. All the sorrow and rage must be put away until he had the weapon he needed to satisfy it.
He checked his GPS, which was already set for Atlanta, Georgia, and pulled out his address book. He hesitated, then carefully looked around him before he reached over and unfastened the large tool chest on the passenger seat and flipped open the lid.
He needed to share this first moment of the journey with his son. They had both waited far too long. He drew back the velvet cover he had draped over the silk nest he had built in the interior of the tool chest. “We’re on our way, Kevin. I’m keeping my promise.”
The empty eyeholes of the burned and blackened skull gazed up at him.
Pain shot through him. After all these years, you would have thought he’d become accustomed to the horror, but there were still moments like this when it hit home. He remembered what a handsome boy Kevin had been and his sweet smile and the way he … Tears stung his eyes. He reached out and deliberately touched the skull. “Forgive me. I still love you. I’ll always love you.” His gaze lifted to the photo of the woman taped to the lid of the tool chest. “She’ll give you back to me the way you were.” His lips tightened. “And then she’ll give us the son of a bitch who did this to you.” He gave one last look at the skull before he closed the lid. “She can do it all, Kevin. We’ll see that she makes it happen.”
He reached forward to the GPS and typed in Eve Duncan’s address.
* * *
No breath! Can’t breathe.
“Hey, wake up.” Joe’s lips brushed Eve’s as he cuddled her closer in the bed. “Nightmare alert.”
Her eyes flew open, and she stared up at him. Joe. Smiling. Safety. She immediately relaxed and drew a deep breath. “I’m awake. Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. You were just panting as if someone were trying to smother you.” He stood up. “I thought you should wake up and get back to the real world.”
Smothering. Yes, she vaguely remembered that sensation. Darkness closing in and something, someone, fighting to keep the smothering suffocation away from her. “I’m duly grateful.” She sat up in bed. “Not a pleasant dream.” She tilted her head. “You’re already dressed. Are you going in to the precinct this morning? I thought you had a plane to catch. That Miami court case.”
“Later today. Paperwork this morning.” He pulled her from bed. “Come on. Have coffee with me before I leave.”
“Gladly. I definitely don’t want to go back to sleep.” She grabbed her robe and followed him out of the bedroom. “And I have to work on Ryan’s reconstruction anyway. I made a lot of headway last night, and I might finish today.” She passed the worktable and dais where the little boy’s skull was placed, waiting for the final forensic sculpting. “It’s going well.”
“They all go well.” He handed her a cup of coffee. “They wouldn’t dare do anything else. You’re the best, aren’t you?”
“One of the best.” She took the coffee and went out on the porch. The early-morning sunlight was shimmering on the lake, and the air was cool and clear. “And they do not all go well. Sometimes things seem to get in the way. Why are you being so complimentary?”
“What can I say? I’m just a man.” He chuckled as he sat down in the swing and pulled her into his arms. “I’m encouraging you to have good thoughts while I’m gone so that I can look forward to one hell of a homecoming celebration.”
“You’re only going to be gone two days,” she said dryly. “I’ll hardly have time to miss you.”
“You really know how to hurt a guy.”
“I’ll miss you,” she whispered as she cuddled closer. Moments like this were precious. They had been together for so many years, and yet the love kept deepening with the passing of time. “Maybe. Who knows? I might have another nightmare.” She gave him a quick kiss. “You’re my hero.”
“It was that bad?”
She wished she hadn’t mentioned that dream even as a joke. Joe was always fighting to keep her safe, but who could fight against a nightmare? But it was a nightmare that was still with her. She couldn’t seem to shake it.
“It was … like a battle. I was being smothered, and someone was trying to stop it. But they couldn’t do it, and I wasn’t sure I could either.” She sat up from the swing. “But you came to the rescue, and everything turned out fine. So let’s forget it.” She finished her coffee and pulled him to his feet. “Now you get to work, and so will I. If you get back in time, maybe we’ll have lunch together before you have to go to the airport.”
“I’ll get back in time.” He ran down the steps. “I just wish I could be here when Jane arrives. I’ll be flying out when she’s flying in.”
Jane, their adopted daughter, would be sorry, too. She was an artist who had been temporarily living in London because her work had taken off at light speed in Europe, and she needed to be available for gallery shows. She had called Eve a month ago and said that enough was enough, and she was coming home to the people she loved. Joe seldom was called out of town, and Jane would be disappointed not to see both of them at the airport. “She’ll still be here when you get back.”
“But I know you were looking forward to family time. We haven’t been together in a long time.” He frowned. “It’s not as if we’re the typical normal family. I hate like hell to disappoint you.”
“You’re not disappointing me. You’re doing what you have to do. It’s your job. What family is normal except on the sitcoms?” She smiled as she shook her head. “And today they all define their own definition of normal. And what was normal about our families when we were growing up? You were a rich boy whose parents stuck you in snooty boarding schools. I was a slum kid with a mother who never even knew who my father was and was high on drugs all through my childhood. I’d say by comparison we’re doing pretty damn well. We all love each other and guard each other and give each other freedom. That’s awesome, Joe.”
He smiled back at her. “I guess it is. Thanks for reminding me.”
“You’re welcome. I just have to keep an eye on your penchant for trying to make everything perfect. Perfect can be boring.” She watched him open the car door. “Maybe we’ll have a barbecue the night you fly in.”
He lifted a wicked brow. “That’s not the celebration I had in mind.”
“So much for family time.” She chuckled. “You’ll enjoy that one, too. Why not have—Joe?”
He was standing ramrod straight, his head lifted, looking out at the lake, the smile completely gone.
“Joe, what’s wrong?”
He jerked his gaze back to her. “Nothing. Just a—I don’t know.” He opened the car door. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
She watched the car go down the road and around the curve before she slowly turned and went in the house. Those last few minutes had made her uneasy, and it was difficult to dismiss them.
But she would dismiss them. It was time to forget nightmares and unexplained uneasiness. The sun was shining, and she had to get on with her life. It was a good life, with purpose and people she loved. That was what was important. She moved quickly back to the bedroom to dress and get ready to work on Ryan.
“VENABLE PHONED,” HOWARD STANG
said when Lee Zander walked into the house after his gym workout. “He called on my cell. He wasn’t happy when he couldn’t reach you. He should know by now that you change your phones every week or so.”
“Venable is always unhappy when things don’t go like clockwork. That’s his CIA mind-set. He takes it as a personal insult.” Zander dropped down in the chair in front of the fire. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“For you to call him back.” He grimaced. “Venable doesn’t confide in me. Not that I’d want him to. I prefer to stay out of the CIA’s sphere of influence.”
“So do I.”
“It’s not the same. I’m intimidated, and you just choose to avoid.” Stang studied Zander as he watched him reach for his phone. Lee Zander was a tall, muscular man with white hair cropped short and a bone structure that was both craggy and bold. His brown eyes were sunk deep in his tan face beneath a slash of dark brows. Stang had no idea how old he was … fifties? Sixties? It didn’t matter. He appeared ageless, and he had seen Zander take down men who must have been half his age. He kept that powerful body exercised and his mind razor-sharp. Stang could not imagine Zander being influenced or intimidated by anyone, even a power player like Venable. Stang had been working for him for the last three years as his personal assistant and accountant, and he had never lost his respect … or his fear … of Zander. At times, he wondered why he stayed with him when the comfort level was always being jeopardized by the uncertainty of how Zander would respond to any given situation. But those moments were rare; when he subdued the panic, he knew exactly why he stayed with him. He’d made a decision years ago when he’d sworn on his brother’s grave that he’d never leave Zander until the day he died. “Venable sounded urgent.”