Authors: Susan May Warren
And she'd let him call her Dani. Yuck. It suited her? She must not have been fully lucid when she let him chop off half her name. She was so
a Dani. Cute. Sweet. Swooning at the feet of the nearest good-looking guy who had a nice smile and a charming swagger.
Swallowing her desire to turn around and floor it south, she climbed out of the truck and went around the back to free Missy. The two-story motel, equipped with rent-by-the-month rooms facing Lake Superior, was a sorry excuse for a lighthouse, but at least the landlord allowed dogs. Then again, Dannette felt like a sorry excuse for an SAR searcher. She'd broken a cardinal rule of SAR work: Don't talk to the press. At least not until the police gave clearance.
She didn't want to see Fadden's face in the morning â¦ maybe she should pack up and head home to Iowa, just like he'd suggested.
Only what would Sarah say when she arrived in Moose Bend and found nothing but the skid tracks from Dannette's quick exit? Dannette knew she'd been doing her hermit routine for the past six months, and Sarah had been more than pointed in her assertion that they were getting together before Andee's trip north. Dannette had little doubt Sarah would track her down to Iowa or Kentucky and finally wheedle out the conversation that had been simmering since they'd been involved in the kidnapping and recovery of Lacey Montgomery's daughter, Emily.
It isn't about Ashley
. She'd told herself that for three days while they fought to save Emily's life. The entire episode hit way too close to Dannette's heart, and both her friends knew it. Hence the space. And the impending showdown with Sarah.
Besides, after today's near tragedy with Mrs. Hanson, it was clear that Moose Bend needed Kelly and Kirby's certification as soon as they could arrange the test, and Dannette had to stick around to administer it.
Dannette climbed the steps to her room and opened the door. The room smelled starchy and fresh, and sleep beckoned from the made-up bed. Off-season in Moose Bend had its benefits, and the first was the low monthly rate of this prime lakeside getaway. And it helped that Kelly's mother owned the place.
Dannette unlaced her muddy boots and toed them off, then shut the door and locked it behind her. Missy went straight for her cushion and curled up, closing her eyes before Dannette shut the bathroom door. She started the shower and got in before it had even reached full heat.
Ten minutes later, she lay warm and only slightly damp in her old Tasmanian Devil nightshirt and wool socks, channel surfing from her double bed. Hunger still gnawed at the outside reaches of her stomach, but she ignored it. Better hungry than in stomach-curdling company.
Obviously she hadn't totally run Cowpoke Masterson out of her head. And if she was honest, he wasn't completely disgusting. Not with his deceptively sweet smile. The way he helped her rub down Missy and settle her in the pickup had charmed his way too far into the soft spaces of her heart. She could hear the cowboy in his words, a soft Western twang that spoke of broad skies, lazy days, slow laughter, and sardonic humor.
But he'd all but lied to her.
So he'd never actually admitted to being a cop â¦ he hadn't jumped to correct her, had he?
She scrolled through the television channels without really seeing, her chest burning.
. Just when she was starting to enjoy his company. Or rather
to enjoy his company. She hadn't had a real, I'm-interested smile from someone of the opposite gender for so long she'd forgotten what it felt like.
No, it hadn't been a real smile.
. Her throat thickened. A reporter. She should have seen the ink on his fingers, recognized the predatory look on his face, alerted to the sound of sniffing as he leaned on the table and stared at her with those pretty, deceitful brown eyes.
She'd had her share of run-ins with reporters, thank you, and had no desire to get close to anyone who dug out secrets and splattered them across the front page of her hometown rag. Or wherever.
She blamed exhaustion for not seeing through his charm. No man with that much natural rough-edged charisma would ever give her so much as a two-second glance. His type, the ones with ego and eyes that could make a girl forget her name, weren't attracted to the plain Jane, unruly hair Dannette types.
They wanted makeup. Beauty. An easy smile that didn't look too long at the interior. They wanted a
. Her defenses should have pricked the moment he made that shopping jab. She should have smelled the suaveness radiating off him.
He saw her only as the inside track to a hot story.
She sighed as despair deflated her anger. She shouldn't blame Will. Maybe God was simply intervening. The Almighty knew her history with men. The two that preceded Reporter Will had been SAR types who lived for adventure and put adrenaline before romance. Sorta like she did. A gal with a career traipsing around the world risking her neck to rescue others had no business cultivating or even wishing for strong arms and a willing ear to come home to.
Any such hero would need to know her back-story, and frankly, she wasn't giving that up. Not without a crowbar to her heart.
She flicked to a rerun of a detective show and soon grew bored, her mind returning rebelliously to Will Masterson. She sunk into her pillow; her eyes grew gritty.
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you.” He was leaning against his truck, hands in his leather jacket, a grin denting the dark goatee. “I didn't know you were so sensitive about reporters.”
Dannette whistled to her dog, but Missy seemed strangely absent. That fact niggled in the back of her brain, but she ignored it. The sky had turned a sickly green. “We should get inside.”
He didn't seem to hear her. His liquid eyesâdark and magneticâreached out to her. “Why did you run away from me?”
She opened her mouth, and suddenly Will Masterson morphed into a small blonde woman, slightly built, lines around her mouth. Her gentle hazel eyes held on to Dannette with a power that seemed otherworldly. A tear hung on her lash. “Why did you run away?” she said softly. Behind her, the sky darkened, a flicker of light, then thunder, low and rippling under Dannette's skin.
“I dunno,” Dannette whispered, but the words stuck like paste in her mouth.
The woman crouched. Opened her arms. Smiled.
The ground rippled, cracked. Dannette watched in horror as it opened a gully between herself and the woman. Still, the woman stayed in her crouched position, unaffected by the storm that now whipped her green house-dress and apron around her waist, her hair over her face. “Dannette?” she said, cocking her head.
“Mommy!” Was that her voice?
Dannette startled awake. The woman vanished, and the final scenes of the detective show slashed into her mind. Her heart pounded, and she summoned deep breaths.
Just a dream
Dannette looked at Missy. In the wan, eerie light, she saw the dog's head raised, her eyes tender as she stared at her mistress. “C'mere,” Dannette said softly and heard emotion in her plea.
Missy trotted over and hesitated before she jumped on the bed and joined Dannette.
Dannette turned off the television and scooted down. She rubbed her hand through Missy's fur and tousled her ear, comforted by Missy's warmth, her sweet eyes on her.
“I dunno,” she repeated, then closed her eyes and tried to push the memories back to the dark corners where they belonged.
Fadima sat between the two men, squashed in the front of the pickup, like a prisoner. She hadn't been this close to a man ever, even her brother, and it felt invasive, even through her spring jacket. Their odorâa mixture of sweat, cigarette smoke, and greasy foodârose and filled the cab, curdling the airplane food that sat like a boulder in her stomach. She clutched her backpack on her lap and tried to remember her father's words.
“You are the bride of Bakym.”
. That word meant so many things in her culture. How ironic that for the first time it would also mean freedom. She had been prepared for the tradition of arranged marriage and the fact that her father had pledged her years ago to the local Hayata leader, Bakym. She'd even managed to resign herself to the knowledge that Bakym saw her only as an alliance, a means of securing for himself a higher position in the larger Hayata organization.
meant life, but only since her mother had been killed had Fadima realized that her father had plans to give her and her brother real life outside the Hayataring of power. Plans that, should Hayata discover them, would lead straight to their executions.
Bride. Thankfully, any such ceremony wouldn't take place until her father joined them, which of course, would hopefully never happen. Until then she would assume her alternate purpose as a courier.
Hayata dealt in surreptitious money and weapons transportation as well as identity theft, money laundering, and other forms of fraud. Although started by a group of disenfranchised Cossacks searching for unity, their leadership had refocused in the last few years as suppliers, the brokers of information, weaponry, and supplies. She would spend the next two months polishing her English and learning how to pass herself off as a touristâor better, as an American teenager. Then Hayata would put her to work, sending her to Detroit and perhaps the South, where she'd travel the coast in an RV with her supposed father and act as a decoy for their illegal activities.
Illegal activities that included the loss of American lives.
Unless she escaped and completed her real mission.
. She had held the flimsiest of hopes that one of these two men might be the contact who would not only stop Hayata's plans but remove her from their clutches so she could start a new life. Her disappointment sharpened with each mile. Night blacked out the landscape, save for the beam of headlights furrowing out the highway. Jet lag washed over her in waves, but she refused to sleep, to let her head bob onto either man's shoulder. “How much longer?” she asked in her native tongue.
“English,” the driver snapped. He had pale skin, light brown hair, eyes that seemed both brown and gold.
She stared at him, wondering at his involvement in Hayata. She'd seen Asians in their
a few times, but even they had dark hair, dark almond-shaped eyes. This man seemed so whiteâshe'd never seen anyone with skin so pale. And he had three earrings and a stud in his nose. She'd never seen a man with an earring, let alone face piercings. He'd shed his leather jacket and wore a black T-shirt with metallic letters printed on the front. A barbed-wire tattoo on his upper arm peeked from his shirtsleeve.
“We speak English in America, and you will too,” he snarled without looking at her.
She nodded. Hopefully her years of English wouldn't become a tangled mess in her drying mouth. “Yes, sir.”
On the other side of her was a man from her own country, with darker skin, darker hair, and wary eyes. He sighed and leaned against the window. “We'll be there soon. Remember, when we cross the border, you're my sister. We live as Americans. Keep your mouth shut.”
Fadima nodded again, unable to speak past the lump of fear forming in her throat. America.
Will sat on a boulder overlooking Lake Superior, his cell phone to his ear. He listened to it ring, gave a verbal code, and waited while he was connected to Jeff Anderson, his handler.
“What's up, Will?” Jeff had a calm voice, all business, but without the edge that Will had become accustomed to in the Green Berets. At first he'd wondered if it made Jeff soft, but in the end he decided it made him likable. Lew had also had a calm voice. It had kept the rest of his team sane in a chaotic world.
Will needed sanity tonight. “Simon is dead. Hayata must have made him.”
Jeff stayed momentarily silent, then sighed. “Sorry to hear that. Are you okay?”
Translation: Were you made? Or will you end up facedown in the woods before the week's end? “I don't know. I was ambushed before our meet, as if they wanted me out of the way. But maybe they thought he was passing information to the local paper, not to the CIA.” Will braced his elbow on his knee, feeling anew the bruises he'd accumulated. Even worse was the mangy-cur feeling of shame over the way he'd treated Dani. “I want to head up to the farm, take a look-see.”