'Who are you?' he gritted. He had whitened as she'd spoken. His eyes were so dilated,
they were almost black.
She had wondered when he would get around to that. Kirstie held up the cup. 'We have
reached a decision point. Will you drink this coffee?'
'Which bears the convenient drug that I am to swallow blind, and hope it doesn't kill me.
And if I don't, do you threaten to shoot my kneecap? How I despise your kind.' His
mouth twisted with the bitter words.
Kirstie leaned forward, compelled his gaze to hers and held it unblinkingly. For the first
time he was close enough to see that her eyes were expressive like rippling water that
reflected every mood of the sky.
'If I were a killer, you'd be dead by now.' The brutal truth of that was self-evident. 'Even
you should see that you're worth more alive. I checked the measurement of the sleeping
drug three times. I don't want to hurt you,' she said, her eyes very clear. 'But if you don't
drink this coffee I shall have to hit you over the head with the butt of my gun. It is your
choice. Believe me, the drug is more precise and less painful.'
The soft hairs at the nape of Kirstie's neck rose one by one as she held the drink towards
him. Bound he most certainly was, but it became the hardest task of her life to force her
Everything past and present converged on the moment as she waited to see if she had
intimidated him enough into believing her. This was the most perilous point of the whole
enterprise. If he called her bluff and refused, she didn't know what she would do. Kirstie
felt as if she had put her hand into the mouth of an angry dragon. An immeasurable
eternity of a second passed.
Then, with the first evidence of grace in their encounter, he lowered his head and drank.
Swallowing blind. God, what she had made him choose! Francis's eyes focused on her
hand holding the cup, and he raised his head. She did not know what he saw in her face,
but it changed his drastically.
'You're shaking,' he whispered.
She licked her lips. 'So are you.'
His eyes were the most vivid colour she had ever seen, riveted with sudden awareness.
'Could you have hit me?'
'Rather late to ask, don't you think?' She turned her face away and recapped the thermos.
'What would you really have done if I hadn't complied?' he asked, not letting go.
'Oh, for God's sake!' she snapped, vicious with tension, and she glanced at her watch.
The drug should take effect soon.
'"The more human beings proceed by plan, the more effectively they may be hit by
accident,"' he quoted.
'You might not have paid for it, but it was a very expensive education,' she retaliated.
should be as good a way as any.'
This time, however, her tactics did not work. It showed in the quirk of his black
eyebrows an instant before he spoke. 'Your first mistake,' he told her, suddenly too tired
to bother hiding a weary cynicism. 'After a broken ankle, a twice broken collarbone, torn
ligaments and a metal pin in my knee, I paid for that education.'
Kirstie could not help her look of surprise, and, though uttered reluctantly, the question
had to come out. 'The pin in your knee—that's why you didn't turn pro?'
His downturned lips mocked her. 'You disappoint me! Why else the scar on my left
thigh? "The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds."' He had
not lost one iota of his muscular control, but he curled down into the back seat,
nevertheless, and said, 'I think I'll take that nap now. Drive carefully—I have a fondness
for this car.'
Kirstie covered his cramped, sleeping form with the blankets, then ran to shift one of the
construction barriers she had stolen in the early hours of the morning to place around
that section of the basement. She raced back to the BMW. All her movements were
concise, efficient. She had gone through everything over and over again.
But the drug should have taken about ten minutes to work. It had taken almost twenty.
As she started the car, her heart was pounding. The car purred out of the space and up
the exit ramp. What else had she failed to plan for? What else could backfire?
The worst of it was that, for all that Francis Grayson deserved everything he got,
through all the good arguments for what she did, the conviction that undermined her
entire purpose was that what she was doing was wrong.
'"The best-laid plans of mice and men,"' she whispered, feeding the parking ticket into
the automatic machine. Francis Grayson wasn't the only one who could throw in a quote
or two for the occasion.
The whole affair had started just forty-five minutes ago.
Kirstie perched on the edge of a boulder with a fishing-rod in one hand. The line curved
out and she contemplated the little red bob in the water thoughtfully. The small mountain
lake was clear, unpolluted and very cold. She was well aware of the last from personal
experience, for the boulder had doubled as a diving point on occasion.
Fishing that evening, however, was not providing its usual sense of relaxation. She had
rammed her brain into high gear for over two days and now was finding that it wouldn't
stop, no matter how tired she was.
She'd had to cash in some favours owed to her, but at least the rest of the kidnapping had
gone smoothly. She had simply driven through downtown Manhattan with Francis
Grayson snoring in the back seat. The BMW was equipped with a car phone, so at a
convenient stop light she telephoned ahead to warn her stepgrandfather, Whit, that she
was on her way to the New Jersey airstrip.
Philips Aviation was small, but was privately owned and operated by Kirstie's family.
The authority of leadership fell on the broad shoulders of her eldest brother Paul, who, at
forty, was a stable personality and in many ways held the wisdom of a man far older. He
ran the business with an iron hand, and he held an obsession for orderliness and
Primarily her responsibility in the business consisted of flying wealthy tourists around
New York, but she regularly helped with the company's shipping schedule as well. On
one occasion, when the police had needed extra manpower, she had helped them carry
out a road search for a car involved in a high-speed chase. Normally Kirstie loved
working for her brother, and piloting helicopters was a fascinating occupation.
What she would face when she went back, however, was something she dreaded, as she
was rapidly gathering a great many black marks against her. White-haired Whit, a loyal
old scamp, had prepared the number three helicopter in the north hangar for her, and had
stocked it well with groceries. He had not liked doing it, but he had helped her carry
Francis to the helicopter and strap him in. They had parked the BMW inside the hangar
and Whit had distracted Paul while Kirstie took off.
Kirstie counted, with a morbid compulsion, all the sins she had committed that day. She
had taken the helicopter without permission, for an unspecified length of time. She did
not know when she would be back at work. She had lied. She had broken the law. She
would shortly be faced with a large, very hung-over, very angry man.
It had been a busy day.
She heaved a sigh, shifted aching shoulders and gave an experimental tug on her fishing-
line. Most of the lake was ringed by a tangle of underbrush and trees. Some people
might have found the scene God-forsaken. Kirstie had loved it all her life. She knew
every tree, shrub, and gorge on that mountain, knew every sound it made.
A dead, dry twig cracked.
With a great effort, she managed not to flinch. There was a tiny rustle, like a breeze
through a tree branch. The wind had died over an hour ago. The trees were perfectly
Kirstie forced herself to remain seated, making him come to her. Pride wouldn't let her
look around. He had stopped perhaps ten yards behind her, and the sensitive skin along
her back prickled with tiny needles of apprehension. Never in her life had she been so
aware of another person's presence.
He began to move again. She watched a fine tremor quiver down the length of the
fishing-line as she cleared her throat and said steadily, the first thing that came to mind,
'I assume you've already been through the cabin?'
There was a hesitation. 'Where the hell are we?' enquired Francis in a deceptively mild
God, he was so furious, so controlled, and the reality of it was worse than all imagining.
She could not admit to fear. Kirstie had never cowered before a man in her life, and she
wasn't about to start now. With a clearing of her throat, she managed to sound calm as
she replied, 'Northern Vermont. This land has been in my family since my great-great-
grandfather came over from Ireland. That was the log cabin he built—well, at least most
of it is original. There have been additions.'
She was babbling. As she became aware of it, she put a stop to the words flooding out of
her mouth and heard another twig crack. He was circling her, bloodthirsty as a wolf, and
she nearly spun where she sat to draw up the gun and stave off that inimicable prowl
with the threat of violence.
'Where are the others?' From over her right shoulder now came the purr of the man's
Kirstie's head turned sharply to one side in disconcertment. 'What—what do you mean?'
A rustle, a whisper, a mere hint of movement and she struggled to breathe against a
tightening constriction across her chest. 'You're too small,' murmured the wolf, with
hideous reason. 'You couldn't have shifted me two feet, let alone managed to lift me out
of the back of the car. Let us indulge in an exercise of logic. Two people, maybe three
were needed. Plus money, to hire out the helicopter.'
She hastened to forestall him, appalled at his deductions and the possible consequences
to her grandfather, Whit. 'There's no one else involved in this,' she grated harshly, and he
moved again. It was enough to make her reach for the gun and turn to face him, on her
knees in a wary crouch. Lord, he was closer than she had realised, and, confronted with
the dangerous glint of warning in her grey eyes, he froze. 'It's my helicopter and my
responsibility. You want to blame someone for the mess you're in, you look at me.'
His carved lips drew back over white teeth in an animalistic parody of a grin. The
straight black hair that had been so immaculate in the basement car park now fell over
his forehead in an ebony wave. 'I have. Should I be impressed?'
That cut so accurately that she nearly shook her head. No, Francis, there was nothing
impressive about this sordid scene, only shame and the unavoidable clash of hate.
However, she merely replied, her eyes opened to their very widest, 'That depends on
whether you refer to your own performance of this afternoon, or mine. For such a clever
man, you were remarkably easy to snare.'
Even from where she knelt, the gun heavy in the clasp of one diminutive hand, she could
see how the lean muscle in his cheek leapt in reaction. 'Indeed,' he said, making a
mockery of courteous speech. 'Let us give credit where credit is due. Like most people, I
tend to treat the wrong side of the barrel of a gun with the utmost caution. How astute of
you to realise it. If you wish for a real test of wit, try laying down the weapon and facing
me without it.'
The rock was digging into her knees. 'But, Francis,' she protested, as she rose to her feet,
his caustic stare following her every move, 'then you would have the unfair advantage.
After all, you said it yourself. I'm much too small. Pitted against you, I'd be all but
'God help anyone who considered you helpless,' he uttered with unflattering sincerity.
He sounded a little disorientated, and frustrated as hell. Kirstie couldn't blame him. She
bit her lip, grinding the butt of the gun into her palm as though she could crush out her
unwilling sympathy for Francis Grayson as easily.
'Temper, temper,' she tutted mildly.
It was touching a lighted match to a fuse. He exploded with the rumbling growl Of a
thunder clap. 'I've just awakened after being drugged. I found myself with a pounding
headache, in a strange helicopter with a missing radio, miles from anything familiar. I
was unbound, there was a bottle of aspirin in the empty seat beside me and a note telling
me that I was free to go whenever I liked. I ask you, am I supposed to swallow this farce
She said with a distinct snap, 'You can swallow it however you like! The nearest town is
six days' walk to the south. Backpacks and compasses are in the cupboard under the
stairs. If I were you, I'd wait until morning before starting out. Wandering around at
night on this mountain can be dangerous, and you're bound to be feeling groggy still.'
'What I want, damn your contrary hide, is an explanation!' he shouted.
It was for this that her conscience would not allow her to leave, but even conscience had
its limits. Kirstie sighed and replied with obvious patience, 'That is what I'm here for. Do