Authors: Dee Henderson
Adam touched her arm to point out an owl he had spotted in a nearby tree. “You’re cold. Where’s your jacket?”
“The utility room off the kitchen.”
“I’ll be right back. Want another soda?”
Adam nodded and went into the house.
Dave joined her at the railing.
“Thanks for bringing Adam. I know you probably took some heat to make it happen.”
“It distracted you for a few days, so it was worth the effort.”
“I’m here indefinitely, aren’t I?”
“Something is wrong, Sara. It feels like New York again. We’re missing something.”
Sara paused, then nodded. “Thanks for arranging today then.”
“I’ve got some ideas we’re kicking around. It’s not hopeless yet. Give me a couple more weeks, okay?”
Sara forced a smile. He didn’t need another burden. He was already doing everything he could. Her nightmares were her own problem. “Sure.”
The sound was loud and startling. Sara felt something hit her cheek. The next second Dave took her over the rail of the patio with one sweeping arm. She couldn’t breathe under his weight but knew it didn’t matter. She heard his gun cock beside her ear.
All was quiet for several long moments. Dave took a deep breath. “Sorry.” The gun safety went back on.
It had been a balloon popping. A balloon…that was all. It must have been blown by the breeze to touch the hot edge of the grill where it had instantly exploded.
“You got cake on my favorite shirt,” Sara remarked, trying to shake off the disorientation. She had been taken to the ground too many times by Dave to overreact to a false alarm. Given the tension level they had been living with for the last five weeks, it had been due. She moved very carefully and began to assess how many new bruises she had just picked up. Dave had taken her over the railing in a sweeping, instinctive move. From the deck railing to the ground was not a minor two-feet fall.
Dave extended his hand.
Ben and Susan were there, standing almost on top of them. Two other agents had come in view, signaled in by the radio call.
“Clear! We’re clear!” Dave called out.
Sara looked around at the agents, then at Adam who had rushed down the deck steps. She started to laugh. It was either that or cry. She slugged her brother lightly on the arm. “Good reflexes.”
“If it had been a sniper, we would have both been dead.” He was looking at the red welt on her forearm where she had struck the hot grill.
“Always the pessimistic one.” She lowered her head and dropped one hand on her knee as the lightheadedness overwhelmed her.
Dave’s hand was warm on her back. “What did I break?”
“I don’t know, maybe a rib. I’m just out of breath.” She closed her eyes, but the darkness overwhelmed her, and she forced her eyes open again.
Adam was at her side. “Sara.”
She went down on one knee. She tried to laugh, but it was too hard to get her breath.
“Susan, call an ambulance.”
“No. It’s not that serious,” Sara gasped.
“Go,” Dave ordered.
“Hold up, Dave. She just got the wind knocked out of her,” Adam interceded. “Give her a minute.”
As her breathing eased, Sara became aware of the fact Adam’s arm was around her back, his other hand resting against her abdomen. He was warm, strong, and holding her steady.
“She’s going to be fine, Dave.”
“Come on, let’s get you inside and make sure nothing else is hurt.” Dave helped her to her feet. She gasped in pain and quickly looked at her right hand. She had picked up a splinter in the center of her palm and had just embedded it nice and deep when she put her hand down to push herself up.
“I’m fine. It’s a nuisance.” Sara scowled at the blood. It
have to be her drawing hand.
“Have a seat at the kitchen table and let me look at that hand,” Susan directed. “Dave, can you find tweezers?”
Sara dusted off the spots of icing that she had managed to pick up during the fall. Adam held out a kitchen chair for her, and she sank gratefully into it. He squeezed her shoulder.
Susan took a careful look at Sara’s hand, wiping away the oozing blood. “It’s embedded up into the center of your palm. Would you rather have us let a local doctor do this?”
“No, your help will be fine. It’s the bruise between my ribs I wish you could make go away. I think Dave had a can of pop in his hand when his arm came around me.”
Susan glanced at Sara’s back. “Looks like the remains of a diet cola. Hope this shirt wasn’t your favorite.”
“Dave is getting used to having to replace my wardrobe.”
Dave came back carrying what they would need to deal with the splinter, as well as cream for the welt that had risen on her forearm.
“Take these,” Adam offered, holding out two aspirins. “They’ll help with the bruises.”
Sara took them with a nod. “Thanks.”
Adam sat beside her and held her good hand while Susan considered how to remove the splinter.
Sara didn’t make a sound as the jagged piece of wood was removed from her palm. The antiseptic sent tears streaming down her cheeks, but finally the wound was bandaged.
If it had been a sniper, the two people she loved most might have paid with their lives today. Adam had been with her moments before; Dave had been right beside her.
The decision Sara made settled inside, irrevocably set.
going to happen again. No matter what the cost, this was never going to happen again.
Adam didn’t like the look in Sara’s eyes. It wasn’t just shock. Her eyes had gone flat of all emotion. As soon as Susan was done, Adam took Sara’s good hand. “C’mere.” She didn’t protest as he helped her to her feet.
Adam led her away from Dave and the others to the relative privacy of the living room. She had that alarming look of terror that he had seen only once before. The day when the elevator had gone dark. The look in her eyes was frightening. It was like her world had just gone dark. He rubbed her arms, hoping to break her out of it. “Don’t get spooked, okay? It was an accident.”
“And if it had been real?” She shifted away from his hands. “I can’t afford to have you near me, Adam. I couldn’t bear it if you got hurt. It’s bad enough I put Dave in constant danger.”
Adam felt the surge of the tide breaking against him and had so little to fight with. It was a helpless feeling. He’d never told her the most important thing of all, the one thing he couldn’t stand her not knowing—that he loved her. “Don’t tear us apart just because we can’t find this guy. Then he
“Don’t ask me to live with the risk. I can’t. I can’t continue to put people I care about in danger. I’m leaving here. I know how to disappear, not just hide. It’s time to take that step.”
Disappear. Leave his life. Adam tried to imagine life without her and couldn’t. She would be ripping out a chunk of his heart if she left. “Sara, you’re overreacting—”
And try as he might, he couldn’t keep the slightly desperate note out of that attempted reassurance.
Sara’s heart constricted at Adam’s almost frantic words, but she had no choice.
“Adam, trust me. I’m not.” She refused to let the emotions win.
God, give me the courage to do what I know has to be done. You said there was a time for war. It feels like that time has come.
Adam wanted to slay her dragons for her, but if she let him try, her dragon would slay
Her hands on his shoulders, she reached up and gently kissed him on the cheek as she had done months before on a cold, wet July night in the middle of a concrete parking garage. “Be happy, friend, okay?” She walked swiftly toward the back bedroom, afraid to let her steps pause in what she knew she had to do.
Dave would fight what she had in mind, but he would have no choice. Her course was set. She knew one way to catch the man. She didn’t care anymore about the high price she would have to pay.
It was time to catch a dragon.…
ave, don’t give me that same line.” Adam paced in Dave’s office. He juggled the paperweight he had picked up. “I’ve heard that excuse for three weeks now, and I don’t buy it. You refuse me her phone number. You refuse me her location. You refuse me any information on how she is doing.” He turned to glare over at his friend. “Quit stonewalling.”
Adam had been back in Chicago for five days, days with constant surveillance covering his movements. The three weeks since he had last seen Sara felt like an eternity.
She was haunting his sleep.
Moving home had just made the troubled sleep worse. The stalker knew where he lived. It didn’t matter that security was nearby, watching every entrance to his home. The sense of being hunted followed him into his dreams. He wondered if he was getting a taste of what Sara lived with in her dreams. In hers, she wasn’t just hunted, she was caught. Just imagining it was terrifying.
“Adam, she is the one refusing to give you the phone number. She’s the one refusing mail. She’s the one refusing to allow any information to be given to you.” Dave rubbed his hands across his face. “I’m sorry. I can’t give you what you’re asking for.”
Adam didn’t believe him. “You’re saying as her brother you have no sway one way or the other over her decisions?”
“Sure I do. I can cross her and she’ll do what she’s threatened to do—pull off the FBI coverage team. She can place one phone call and within a day, every bit of protection I have around her will be gone. People, dogs, surveillance, all of it. Do you think I like this situation? It’s untenable. But she’s serious.”
“Why is she doing this? It makes no sense.”
Dave met his hard gaze. “You know why she’s doing this.”
That was the problem. He did.
Adam ran a hand through his hair and reached a tough conclusion. “Then you convey a message to her: I’ve had it. This is a two-way relationship, and if I have to set private investigators on her trail to find her, I
do it. I am not going away. I will do my absolute best not to give away her location to the man who’s after her, but since my investigators will know a whole lot less about the details of the case than yours do, the stalker may just learn what he’s after. I sure hope if that happens, your security is as good as you say it is.”
Adam turned to walk toward the door, then stopped and pivoted. “You tell her if she doesn’t agree to see me, she is intentionally choosing to put her entire security detail in harm’s way.”
It was a threat but a calculated one. Adam could no longer go on like this. He had no means to force her hand. All he knew for certain was he
to. He would do whatever it took to make her see him.
He’d spent weeks wrestling with the decision, feeling the deep emptiness inside without her there with him, debating which was best—both of them living life apart and miserable, or accepting the risk of both being in danger. He would rather live in danger than live without her.
She had made her decision in order to keep him out of danger. He had finally decided it wasn’t hers to make. He loved her. He wanted to be with her. The fact she was in danger simply made that decision inevitable. He wanted to be there to help protect her. It went along with loving her.
His money had to be good for something. Finding one Sara Walsh, buried somewhere in FBI protective custody, was going to be money well spent. He wondered if she would thank him for it and knew she probably wouldn’t. She’d see it as too much of a sacrifice. He couldn’t demand she accept him or the fact he loved her. But he was going to give it his best shot. He was not walking away without trying.
The call came at 6 P.M. as he sat at his desk at home. He was clearing paperwork so he would be able to leave the business in Jordan’s hands for a period of time. He was hoping for the day to end even though he knew he wouldn’t sleep that night. It would be another night spent staring at the ceiling and wishing for what he didn’t have.
Dave’s voice came over the phone line, his words abrupt. “I’m flying down to see her tonight. Pack a bag and you can come along. She doesn’t know you’re coming, so don’t count on a warm reception.” Dave hung up.
Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose, and for the first time in weeks felt some of the tension drain from his shoulders.
Thank You, God.
He packed only the essentials, figuring the odds were more toward blue jeans than suits for wherever they were going.
Dave drove and Adam could see the deep weariness in his friend’s face. The man had been working nonstop to try to track down every lead from the package that had come in. They had uncovered precious little.
Adam was surprised to find them taking a back entrance to O’Hare. They drove along a row of corporate jets. Two men were waiting at the steps to the Lear jet.
Dave parked the car and handed the keys to a waiting agent. “After you, Adam.”
Adam walked up the steps into the plane and stepped into the luxurious interior that could seat eight comfortably. The seats looked to be the best any plane in the world could offer.
“Store your luggage while I check with my crew.” Dave slipped his bag and briefcase into one of the storage lockers.
“Preflight is done and the flight plan is filed. You’ve got clear weather all the way,” one of the men who had been waiting for their car told Dave.
“Thank you, Richard.”
Dave was flying the jet. Adam didn’t know whether to be relieved or distressed. The man was tired and this aircraft was not a toy.
Twenty minutes later, the plane lifted off. Adam still didn’t know where they were heading, but the moon gave him the sense they were traveling southwest.
It was a nice jet. He had spent years flying on the team plane, flying first class to speaking engagements. This plane gave a smooth ride, the seats were comfortable, the view clear. This was a nice way to travel. If he weren’t so tense, he would probably be able to rest his head back and get some sleep.
“Dave wants to know if you would like to come forward.” It was the copilot, the agent Dave had called Richard.
Adam undid his seat belt and moved forward. The copilot stayed in the back, having volunteered to see about sandwiches. None of them had taken time to eat.
Dave gestured to the copilot seat. “Have a seat. How do you like Sara’s little plane?”
“She owns this?”
“She likes her security team to travel in comfort.”
How did Sara afford it? She was this wealthy?
Dave was constantly scanning the skies, reviewing the dash for indicators slipping outside optimal range.
“Where is she?”
“She went back to the lion’s den. She went back to the one piece of land that madman knows she owns.”
“Frank Victor’s ranch.”
It made sense, Frank leaving the ranch to Sara. “She’s been there ever since the birthday party?”
“She flew down the next day. She’s trying to recreate what happened.”
“The case files. Her memory. Sometime in the next couple days, she’s planning to revisit the farmhouse where they were held.”
Adam closed his eyes. He desperately wanted them to be able to do something that would find the guy, end the nightmare, but this? “Please, tell me you’re kidding.”
“She’s stopped caring about the risk, Adam. She just wants this guy stopped at any cost. And she’s paying…heavily,” Dave said grimly. “Her nightmares are becoming extreme. Her security detail reports she is sleeping less than four hours a night.”
Adam wanted something to rage against but had no enemy to face, only a man that never came out of the shadows. “Can’t anything be done?”
“She refuses to be medicated. She says that under sedation she still lives the nightmare but can’t force herself awake, so she has to endure it playing over and over in her mind. You can’t comprehend one of her nightmares until you see one. She is absolutely petrified. It can take an hour or more to work her out of the hysteria. Because of that fact, she long ago agreed that I would hold medical power of attorney for her.”
Adam understood the dread in Dave’s voice. “You’re going to have to step in.”
“I might. I sincerely hope not. She has worked hard with some of the best trauma counselors in the country. They’re split on what to do at this point. If I have to intervene, it won’t be pretty. I don’t want to go that route.”
“So I’m the catalyst.”
Dave nodded. “I’m counting on the shock value and any pride she has left to force her into listening to reason.”
Adam gave a heavy sigh. “If this doesn’t work, she’s never going to speak to either one of us again.”
“You’ve got that right.”
They landed at a small private airstrip that Dave said belonged to the neighboring ranch. There were two pickup trucks parked by the hangar, keys tucked above the visor. The copilot headed to town, less than ten minutes away, where a hotel room had already been booked for him. Adam and Dave went toward Frank Victor’s ranch. It was desolate country. More brown shrubbery than grass, predominately dirt.
“The ranch makes quite a nice profit because of the breeding stock Frank had acquired, so while the number of head the land can support is few, the stud fees the bulls Sara currently has more than adequately pay all the bills.”
It was a long drive down a rocky road to the ranch. There were several stables and two large barns, the house itself a sprawling
-shaped ranch. Around it, providing shade, were a surprising number of trees that had grown to maturity. The house and the fence around the two corrals were painted white, the barns blue and white.
“Frank’s dad planted all those trees, and they’ve survived every attempt by nature since to kill them by drought, flood, or wind. Sara calls them a study in the sturdiness of God. You would be surprised how many sketchbooks she has filled with images of those trees.”
Their arrival attracted several security agents whom Dave had radioed from the truck several times during the course of the drive, alerting them of their location.
Adam turned to get his bag from the back of the truck and froze when he found a man with a rifle cocked and aimed at him standing less than three feet away. “Would you state your name please, sir?”
Adam felt the sweat run down his back as he answered a dozen questions politely put to him while the gun stayed leveled at him. When he answered the last question in an acceptable fashion, the gun was lifted and the safety slipped back into place.
“Dave may be primary for the government, but I am primary security for Sara’s person on this ranch. We keep motion sensors through the house; we make rounds in the house and grounds at all hours; we know every movement across any boundary of her land; and we’ll ask questions after the fact, not before, are we clear?”
“Then welcome to the H. Q. Ranch. I hope you have some luck in helping the lady to get some sleep.”
The shadow of a man was gone.
“Quinton Scott. The best security man we ever found. He may be getting on in years, but he knows more about protecting someone than anyone else I know. We convinced him to come out of retirement when we told him Sara was determined to come back and stay at the ranch for a while. You’ll see about twenty men who work for him mingled among the full-time ranch hands. Come on, let’s go see Sara.”
It was after midnight, Adam was fighting sleep. They went through the back door and into the kitchen, setting down their luggage. The coffeepot was full and recently brewed. Dave poured them both a mug.
“Are you sure Sara’s up?”
“Her office light was on. She’s up.” Dave led the way through a modern, Southern ranch house, the colors pleasing and coordinated from the color on the walls to the ceramics on the tables.
Dave used the edge of his hand to push wide the half-open door just past the formal dining room.
Adam’s first impression was that Sara had a massive office. It was full of memorabilia: carvings, Indian pottery, books, and sculptures. The room had been built to hold an impressive library. Adam guessed that this had once been Frank’s office. It appeared Sara had changed very little of it.
She was sitting behind a large desk, clear except for a laptop, one high stack of papers, and a thick open file she was reading through. Adam could barely believe it was the same person he had seen three weeks ago. Her cheeks were hollow, her face gaunt. She rubbed her wrists as she read, first one and then the other. She had not heard them enter.
“Do you really think going back over the case files is going to solve something we haven’t been able to break in twenty-five years?” Dave stepped into the room.
She looked up and her hand jerked as she saw who it was, sending pages scattering. Adam could see the instant desire to flee rise in her eyes, and he hated that fact. Anger followed by despair slammed into his gut. It was not the greeting he had hoped for, not the greeting he had gotten at the safe house.
“Go away, Dave, and take Adam with you. I don’t want you two here.”
“Tough. I own part of this place too, even if it’s only one share of the stock. Sit down. We didn’t come to pressure you, just to say hi. We’ve missed you.”