Authors: Dee Henderson
He had news to tell her. He still wasn’t sure how he wanted to broach the subject. The FBI lab had generated a lead on the last package.
The packages were a nasty reminder from the kidnapper stalking Sara. He liked to taunt, send mementos, reminding everyone he was still free. This time he may have made a mistake. Dave sincerely hoped so. He had spent a lifetime working to keep Sara safe while also trying to break the case.
The man they were looking for had broken pattern and used a different kind of tape. The guess was a pretty simple one. He had run out of the previous roll. Still, the type of weave and number of threads in the packing tape were distinct. Dave already had agents doing the footwork with possible manufacturers.
The odds of it shipping to only one locale were slim. But this was a game played on slim odds. With time, one of those slim leads would be gold. How did he break the news to Sara without getting her hopes raised too much?
She’d buried her disappointment when leads went cold, but every time he’d raised her hopes and then they didn’t pan out, it hurt him as much as it did her.
As Dave walked down the long terminal concourse to the baggage claim, he placed a call on his cellular phone to check messages. He would have been paged had anything urgent come up.
His jaw tightened as he listened to Sara’s message. She had gone to have coffee with someone but left no name. Red flags went up. She wasn’t with someone they knew. He had to tamp down his aggravation as he placed the next call. Even with Travis along for security, she should have avoided the public place.
His gut clenched when Travis reported she had waved him off tonight. It was fear now, not just anger. What was his sister doing? She knew better than this.
Dave disconnected and placed the next call, his pace picking up. “Ben, is she home?”
“Yes. Half an hour ago.”
Dave let himself exhale. “Everything quiet?”
“Just fine, boss. The security grid hasn’t even picked up that stray cat tonight.”
Dave took the stairs rather than the escalator down to the baggage claim level, hurrying around other passengers. “I’ll be there in an hour.”
“I’ll be expecting you,” Ben replied.
Dave understood why Sara was fighting the security restrictions, but he couldn’t accept it. Procedures and planning kept her alive. The burden he carried was heavy enough without her adding this kind of foolish risk to the equation.
He couldn’t accept someone he loved putting herself in danger. That was the bottom line. She just had to do it on a day he was out of town. They would be having words tonight. He didn’t understand why she would do something so foolish as to wave off Travis. She might chafe under the burden of the security but she didn’t disregard it, not with her history.
Dave picked up the case that had come through special baggage handling. Firearms on an airline got their own baggage compartment and security procedures.
This situation felt wrong. It was out of character for his sister. It was definitely out of character given the package that had been recently sent. He went back to his voice mail and replayed the message.
He could hear the thunder in the background of her message. She hadn’t used the one word change that would alert him to the fact she felt threatened. So who was she with? And why hadn’t she called Travis?
He wanted to see her face when she answered him. His sister was too good at masking things for him to believe everything she told him over the phone.
Dave pushed the speed limit on the tollway home, willing to risk having to explain the situation to a fellow cop.
Fifty minutes later, he pulled up to the security gate and Ben stepped out to meet him. The stray cat had come across the drive, but otherwise the security grid was clear.
The grounds were enclosed in a stone fence, but the real security was in the beams that invisibly crossed the lawns. Security cameras also covered the entire grounds.
“Anything in particular I should know about, boss?”
“Just my normal unease after being away for a few days,” Dave replied. “What’s the code word for tonight?”
“I see her theme is still holding.”
“I’m expecting Gabriel sometime soon.”
“Thanks, Ben. I’ll see you for coffee in the morning.”
Dave drove up to the house and pulled around the circle drive so the car was positioned by the front door. He set down his bags inside the entryway, glancing at the alarm panel. The downstairs zones were active. “Sara.”
He set the security codes for the night and went up to find her.
She was in her sitting room, curled up on the love seat, reading a book. She was dressed in black sweats, her hair pulled back by a white bow—not her normal work attire. “I was beginning to think you got lost,” she teased, then his expression obviously registered. “What’s wrong?”
“I was just going to ask you that.” He leaned against the doorjamb and waited.
She set the book on the table to keep her place. “I had an interesting night.”
“Elaborate.” The terse word was about the best he could do. They didn’t get mad at each other very often. But when they did, the fights tended to be explosive. He felt like exploding at the moment. He wanted some answers.
“You might want to take a seat.”
One eyebrow rose.
He set down his briefcase and took a seat in the chair across from her.
“Lightning blew a circuit and stopped the elevator. I was stuck in the dark for thirty-eight minutes.”
Sara had the ability to separate emotions from facts. She only did it when the event was traumatic. There was no emotion in her voice at all tonight.
His anger evaporated. Next time, he was staying in town. He ran through the situation and understood all too well what must have happened. “Who was with you?”
His eyes widened.
“Yes, that Adam Black. Apparently he works in the building.”
“Oh, this is just great.” They would be finding her new offices tomorrow. New offices, new security routes, a change in routing for her mail.
She grimaced. “I agree. It wasn’t a pleasant situation.”
“Does he know?” It was a quiet way to ask the tougher question.
“I froze up on him, but no. He just thinks I’m a little afraid of the dark.”
Her attempt to inject a little humor into her voice didn’t work. Sara was more than afraid of the dark. To put it mildly, she was terrified.
“How are you doing?”
She held up her teacup. “Fourth cup. Tonight, I almost wish I drank. Adam talked me into a cup of coffee because it was obvious I was a ball of nerves. I switched to tea when I got home.”
“Sara, you should have called Travis as soon as the elevator reached the garage.”
“It would have raised more questions in Adam’s mind. There were enough as it was. It was late. The storm was bad. The hotel restaurant only had six other patrons. The security risk was minimal.”
“I’m glad Adam was kind enough to make sure you could drive home safely. It doesn’t change the fact you went into a public place with a well-known public figure without anyone covering you. You were too close to the trauma to make the right security call, which is why you should’ve called Travis. He could have at least alerted hotel security.”
“I did what I thought best.”
It wasn’t worth pushing tonight, not while she was this shaky. He would bring it back up tomorrow. “Tell me what you talked about. How you left things when you parted.”
Sara looked down at her teacup. She told Dave all of it except for the kiss, not just because he had asked but because he needed to know. She told him about the story she had remembered telling Kim. She told him about her conversation with Adam during the half hour and then later over coffee.
It felt good to have someone to talk to.
She could see Dave was bothered by what she’d told him. The entire situation had him on edge. “I’m sorry I didn’t call Travis.”
Her brother attempted to smile. “As long as you agree to call him next time.”
“Next time I get stuck in an elevator, I’ll call him.” Sara laughed at his determined expression. “No, don’t even tell me what you are going to do to those elevators tomorrow. I don’t want to know. I can already see it in your face.”
She got to her feet and crossed over to his side. She grasped his hand. “Dave, I’m fine.”
“Think you’ll sleep? I’ll be glad to stay up and talk for a while if you’d like.”
She looked at him with a knowing smile. “Since your body is still on East Coast time, I know it feels like 2 A.M. to you. Other than a little too much caffeine, I’m fine. We’ve been through events like this before. I am coping with this one remarkably well. Go to bed. If I can’t sleep, I’ll just read for a while longer.”
Dave brushed her hair back from her face. “I’ll pray you have peaceful dreams.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
She was amused and somewhat relieved when Dave did a security sweep of her bedroom, just to reassure himself he said. When he left the room, he left the bedside lamp on, the door open, and the hall light on. They were never shut off when she was on the second floor of the house.
Sara woke up screaming at five in the morning. Dave was there immediately, halfway expecting it. Her nightmares always returned after packages were delivered. He came through the bedroom door crouched low. The last time the screams had come, there had been a .45 in her hand, cocked, safety off, pointed at whoever came through the doorway.
It was a two-edged sword—she needed the gun because the stalker had once gotten into her home past their security, but when the terror hit, she wasn’t always rational in the first few waking moments.
“Easy, kid, easy.”
He held her still, his arms wrapped around her from behind, grasping the back of her wrists to still her hands. Her breathing slowly eased from terrified…to afraid…to aware.
The shudders started.
Dave dropped his head down against her hair. Tears burned his eyes. “It’s okay, Sara. It’s okay.” If only the kidnappers hadn’t been able to shove him away from his sisters…
“I know. I know.” Dave gently drew her tighter against him. “You don’t have to blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I rolled the water jug…. I rolled the water jug, and it rolled out of her reach.”
Dave felt the tears begin to flow from her, and he turned her to his chest.
It did no good to remind Sara that if she had drunk any of the water during her turns, there would have been nothing left to try to give Kim.
It did no good to remind Sara that Kim would have died in another few hours even if she had been able to drink the three tablespoons of water left in the bottle. All Sara could remember was that her twin sister had died inches away from her because she had rolled the water jug just beyond Kim’s reach.
Dave wrapped her in her robe, gently slipped her from the bed, and carried her into the bathroom. He turned on the shower as hot as he thought she could handle.
Her smile was shaky but her eyes were clearing.
“Sure, Sara.” He hated feeling this helpless. There was so little he could do.
He found her jeans, a sweatshirt, tennis shoes, and a jacket. There was only one place where his sister found any peace, and it was several miles away.
Sara eventually joined him. She didn’t ask where they were going. He deactivated and reactivated security zones in the house as they made their way to the garage. He pulled the keys to his motorcycle from his pocket.
She slipped onto the bike behind him, her arms hugging him. He put on his helmet. He would have insisted she wear one as well, but she had her head buried between his shoulder blades, and he was not going to let an accident happen this morning. Not this morning.
He took them north, knowing they would eventually turn west toward the cemetery. As he rode, he felt tears soak the back of his shirt.
Life without parole was a hollow sentence for the one kidnapper they had caught. Sara lived the same sentence.
er car is here.” Adam gestured to the gray sedan with the familiar license plate as he walked with his brother-in-law toward the elevator.
Jordan turned to inspect the car Adam had indicated. “I can’t believe you managed to spend two hours with the lady and not get her last name.”
“Believe me, no one regrets that fact more than I do. I can’t find her.” Adam’s frustration was acute. He was hoping his brother-in-law, who also happened to be his lawyer, would have a few good suggestions.
“She doesn’t work normal office hours. Sometimes the car is here at 7 A.M., and other times it doesn’t appear until noon. She’s normally gone by five, but occasionally it’s as late as ten. I don’t know where she works. She doesn’t go to any of the first-floor restaurants for lunch.”
“What about the maître d’ at the hotel restaurant? He would surely know her last name.”
“Too embarrassing.” He seriously wanted to see Sara again, but the only sure way to get her last name he rejected because he would feel foolish—it said something not too pleasant about his ego.
“Why not just wait down here for her to show up?”
“I tried that. On one of those days her car was here late, I waited until past midnight. She never showed.”
“You said she got on the elevator on the sixth floor. It would make sense that she worked on that floor.”
“There’s an architect firm, a dentist office, two private law offices, and a publishing distributor.”
“Perfect fit—a publishing distributor. She’s a writer.”
“The receptionist claims no one named Sara works there. I even sent a large bouquet of flowers, and the deliveryman got the same answer. No Sara. I did the same with the other businesses. Same answer.”
The elevator took them up to the twenty-fifth floor.
“Okay, then you’ve got two choices: wait on luck to bump into her again or start doing a systematic search to find her.”
“I want to know where she works and I want her last name. I’m ready to try just about anything to accomplish that.”
He hadn’t told Jordan everything.
Since that night, Sara had been on his mind constantly.
At first, he had thought it would be a simple thing to find her. They worked in the same building, parked in the same garage, likely ate lunch in the same lobby restaurants. He had hoped she would want to see him again too. Crossing paths should have been simple to arrange.
But after three weeks, Adam knew the opposite.
She didn’t want to see him again.
Three days after the incident, he had left a note under the windshield wiper of her car, asking her to call him. He worked on edge the entire next day waiting for her to call.
She hadn’t called.
That night, however, there was a small brown paper bag set on the hood of his car with a note inside.
“One tangible thanks. That big husky of yours will love it. Sara.”
It came from a specialty dog shop in Lake Forest, and as he hefted the rubber ball he had to smile. It even smelled like the inside of an old shoe. How she found out he owned a Siberian husky was not something he wanted to ponder too long.
The next week he left another note and his business card, asking her to stop by. He would like to take her out to lunch at her convenience.
The note, but not the business card, was tucked under his windshield wiper that same night with a simple no written beneath the invitation.
The next day his secretary asked him point-blank what had put him in such a foul mood.
He thought his third invitation, left with a single white-red rose, was accepted until he walked into the coffee shop on the first-floor lobby where he was to meet Sara and found the waitress wearing the rose pinned to her uniform. She told him his coffee was already paid for, but Sara was unable to stay. The message had been a polite way of saying, “I’m not coming.” There was a note on his car that night saying, “Please, no more invitations.”
It was driving Adam crazy.
He had never pursued when someone told him to back off. And she couldn’t have been more clear in her request, but his heart refused to leave the problem alone. It wasn’t right. He wanted to meet her, at least once, under normal circumstances. If she told him to his face to get lost, then he’d do it. His gut told him her denials were coming from sheer embarrassment over how they had met, and that they had little if anything to do with him.
He wanted her found.
“What would you do, Jordan?”
“Follow her to see where she works. She parks under this tower, so that cuts the search area in half. It wouldn’t be that hard, just time consuming. Have someone in the garage wait for her car to arrive, then have him follow her.”
“What’s Thomas doing? Can you spare him for a few days?”
“The kid will love it. He’s been buried in law books for the past four weeks.”
The park was deserted at two in the afternoon. Sara was grateful. The solitude allowed her to drop her guard a bit. She would never be totally comfortable in a park again—she and Kim had been playing on a set of swings when a van swerved toward them and men grabbed them.
Security was with her now. Ben was jogging along the track that circled the park. He liked to work out. She was always in his sight, and he could inspect the woods that encircled the park without drawing attention. Dave was somewhere around too, though Sara doubted she would spot him.
She owed Adam an apology. That bit with the rose and the coffee had not been handled tactfully at all. It had been downright insulting, now that she thought about it.
He didn’t mean anything threatening by his actions. But after so many years of trying to stay out of someone’s sights, to suddenly have someone focused on her was not only wonderful, it was also terrifying.
Dave didn’t know about the requests. She had managed to talk him out of changing her office location, but just barely. If he had even the
that Adam was trying to get in touch with her, her office would be relocated. She did not want to move. It had taken a lot of time to put together her studio. The regional FBI office was in the same building; a fact that made life easier on her entire security team. She didn’t want them having to live with all the hassles that came with working at two locations. She had worked at the office complex for three months without meeting Adam. There was no reason to believe she couldn’t continue to slip past him.
And if she did see him again, what then? It bothered her that she couldn’t envision what she would say. All these invitations were making her freeze.
Adam’s first note had been a surprise. His handwriting was strong, sharp, clear, except for his signature, which showed the result of having signed autographs for twelve years. Sara had looked repeatedly at that note during the following two days, tempted to call and yet always pulling back when it came time to dial the number.
The invitation to lunch had come next. The fact he was so interested in seeing her again made her hesitate even more.
She had spent a long time sitting in the rose garden behind her home that night, looking at the stars, talking to God, trying to figure out what she should do.
She wasn’t a coward. If she were, years before she would have retreated back into her shell and pulled back entirely from life. She was a fighter. Life knocked her down, and she coped by getting up and moving on. But right now she was on ice so thin she had no idea how to step without crashing through. Guys didn’t exactly appear in her world. There were safety concerns. Background checks. Precautions to keep her out of the public eye.
She didn’t have the option of accepting. Her position put her in the situation where nothing in her schedule happened spontaneously. To accept would open doors she simply did not want to open with Adam. She would have to trust him with an awful lot of information in order to let him into her life. She winced just imagining that initial conversation. Sometimes playing it safe was the smart and only thing she could do.
She didn’t trust Adam’s reaction—that was the bottom line.
At times she had to struggle to trust God, and He was perfect in all His actions. Even events like getting stuck in the elevator figured somewhere in His sovereign plan. With a few days to shake off the aftereffects of that evening, she was willing to trust that there was some good purpose behind the event.
It was interesting, reading her own faith journey as captured in her journal. Fear was a nasty problem to overcome. She thought she had made progress, then got hit with another challenge. And she found she wasn’t on quite as solid ground as she’d thought. It wasn’t a battle she could win once and get past. She longed for the day when she could face a crisis without the panic winning.
She had to live with life as it was. Security. A very real threat sat waiting in the shadows. Her faith sometimes met the challenge and sometimes did not.
Her decision for today wasn’t that difficult. Adam might want to have lunch. There was no likely reason he would want to see her again after that. Taking so many risks for a single meal was a bad idea. The best strategy was to simply keep the door firmly closed.
There had been a brief glimmer of hope in the last week. News of the packing tape discovery had come at a vulnerable time. After all these years, she was careful to take news for what it was, not to go beyond the actual information.
This time, the hope had been in full bloom before she could stop it. Dave had burst that bubble last night. The tape had been a general lot number shipped to twenty-two states. She had wanted the freedom to answer one of Adam’s requests without having the baggage of her past hanging over her head. It wasn’t to be.
She needed to apologize to Adam for that rose. Avoid him, but apologize.
“No gray sedan license BI 691. She didn’t come to work today,” Thomas reported at 3 P.M.
Adam tried not to let his disappointment show. The way his luck was going, Sara was a writer who frequently got sent out of town on assignments.
Lord, should I just drop this? Everything is conspiring to keep me from meeting her again.
He didn’t feel a hard-and-fast conviction one way or the other. He just knew he wanted to see her. He wasn’t ready to give up trying.
“Take the rest of the day off and try again on Monday, Thomas,” Adam said quietly.
All I want to do is talk with her. Is that too much to ask?
He tried to push aside the disappointment and stay focused on work. It had been a full day of meetings and more still to come, but at least the next one was with former teammates over at the sports club. It wasn’t easy. His thoughts kept drifting to the plans he had. Lunch with Sara had become a mission, and not one that was easily set aside.
Four-fifteen finally came. Adam gathered up his notes and slid them into his briefcase, glad the meeting gave him an excuse to get out of the office.
The message was waiting for him at his car.
The note was on white linen paper, slipped into a matching envelope with a deep blue border around it. The windshield wiper left a slight smear across his name.
“My mother never approved of rudeness. Forgive me for giving away the rose? Keeping it would have generated questions I could not afford to have asked. Sara.”
There were two tickets to the sold-out Friday night charity basketball game along with the note. Good seats too. It was quite an apology.
He scanned the garage and felt a deep sense of relief when he saw her car. She was somewhere in the building.
Acute frustration warred with responsibility. Canceling his meeting wasn’t an option. Some of his friends had flown in to attend. He had already told Thomas to go home, and Jordan was out of the office. There were no good options.
He finally did the only thing he could. Scanning her note, he wrote one in reply. She had cracked her solid wall of saying no. If he could keep her talking…
“Sara, apology accepted. But freelance writers don’t have several thousand dollars at their disposal, and those tickets are going at twenty-five hundred dollars apiece on the street. Take them back, please.”
He put the note on her car windshield and hoped he would be back in time to see her retrieve it.
No such luck. When he got back from his meeting, her car was gone.
When Monday evening came, there was another note waiting for him. He had been somewhat prepared for it. He knew she had been at work today. Thomas had lost her this morning in the lobby shops. He opened it slowly, hoping for the biggest wish of all—a phone number.
“Adam. Enjoy the game.”
Her car was already gone. If he hadn’t been saving her notes like a kid in high school, he would have crumpled the elegant card in frustration.
He drove home, wondering how his timing always managed to be off just enough that he kept missing her. He had hoped to at least get a chance to ask her to go to the game with him, but that apparently wasn’t going to happen.
He let the valet park his car.
He still lived in a condominium, even though since his retirement he’d promised himself a house with several bedrooms, a large yard, and a view of something other than the city skyline. His condo wasn’t a small place. There were advantages to living so close to work; he often walked to the office.
His dog met him, padding in from the living room. Adam greeted the animal with an affectionate welcome.
His sister Mary Beth had helped decorate this place. She managed to turn it into a comfortable home. He liked it well enough, but there were days he wished there was someone else who lived here as well, who would occasionally mess up the place. When he returned in the evening, it was always as he had left it in the morning. It got boring.
Adam dropped his briefcase by the couch and walked to the kitchen to retrieve a cold drink. He was tired. Tired inside where his hopes and dreams lived.
He sank down onto the leather recliner that faced the entertainment center but didn’t bother to turn on the stereo. Instead he sat in silence while he drank the cold soda.
Sara, why do you have to be so stubbornly hard to find? A nice dinner and you would probably stop haunting my dreams. At the moment you are playing havoc with my life.