Authors: Dee Henderson
Sara looked down at her glass, biting her lip, then raised her head. “Ellen, are you sure about this? Being a politician’s wife?” They were having dinner at her best friend’s home, going over the wedding reception plans. Sara had been trying hard not to ask the question all evening. It was unfair, for Ellen was deeply in love with Richard—his occupation shouldn’t matter. But Sara had to ask. Had to raise the warning one last time.
Her friend leaned forward and set her own glass on the table. “Yes.”
Ellen looked back at her with sympathy in her eyes; it had never been pity, or they never would have become friends. They had met in Switzerland as teenagers, both there on vacation. Sara had hung on to that friendship, one of the few she was able to keep despite the frequent relocations.
“Your father was,
an ambassador, Sara. That’s an entirely different game than being a state official. Richard would be comfortable being a mayor someday, or maybe a state senator. But he honestly has no desire to go into national politics. I won’t let my children be put into that public spotlight.”
“Hold him to that, Ellen. Don’t put your children at risk.”
“What’s going on? This is a lot more than your persistent fear of a child you know getting snatched. You want to tell me what has been going on since that experience in the elevator? You were looking over your shoulder when we were shopping today.”
“I’m jumping at shadows. I thought someone was following me yesterday.”
“I was on my way upstairs to work, and I suddenly felt like I was inside a fishbowl, like someone was watching me intently. It scared me badly enough I used one of Dave’s cutout routes to get to my office.”
“What did Dave have to say?”
“I didn’t tell him. By the time I reached my office and realized there was no one following me, I felt like a fool.”
“You should have told him immediately.”
“I feel like a fool just telling you. It was nothing but my nerves. Ever since that elevator ride, I’ve been jumping at my own shadow. What are we ordering in for dinner?”
“Chinese. Quit changing the subject. Your instincts are good, Sara. You have to tell Dave when he gets home tonight.”
“He got called to San Jose for a consult on a case. He’ll be back in a couple of days.”
“Call one of the others on the team.”
“When there is even the slightest evidence to support the feeling—a face I see in different places, someone following me—believe me, I’ll hit the panic button. Until then, it’s nothing but my nerves getting frayed. I’m always like this at the end of a book.”
“You’ve finished it?”
“Two more days. Like to read it?”
“Absolutely. It’s going to be your next international bestseller.”
“It’s the best book I’ve written to date,” Sara replied, knowing it was true, knowing it would likely bring record sales. The money made very little difference in her life now. The story represented more memories put to rest. It had accomplished that—it was enough.
Again she considered telling Ellen about Adam. Ellen was her best friend, and yet Sara had mentioned nothing about the notes or the rose. She was hiding the truth because she was afraid to hear Ellen’s response.
Ellen would tell her to accept, to open the door. She didn’t understand the emotional pain that came with always having to say good-bye. Sara had learned to protect her heart from that constant bruising.
No, it wasn’t something she wanted to discuss with Ellen. Whatever possibilities there had been were over. Even Adam was unlikely to persist much longer.
“Has Richard hinted at what kind of honeymoon arrangements he’s making?”
“His only instructions have been to pack for ten days. I can’t get a clue from him as to our final destination.”
Sara wished the envy would fade. Her journey with Adam was over. Her final destination had been a dead end.
“Mr. Black, I think I know why it’s been so hard to find her. She doesn’t work in this tower,” Thomas said, his face flushed with excitement.
“I was on my way back from delivering those papers to the Pratt and Getty law firm in the next tower when I saw her step out of the elevator carrying her briefcase. She crossed the concourse to this tower. I followed her down to the garage and watched her leave.”
Adam leaned back in his desk chair. “You’re kidding.”
“No, sir. I can’t explain why she’s been taking this tower elevator to different floors in the morning, but I’m convinced that if I wait on the sixth floor concourse, I’ll pick her up on her way to work.”
“Good work, Thomas. Great work, in fact. Try it again tomorrow.”
Adam got up and moved to the office window to look down at the street.
Sara, you and I are going to be saying hello tomorrow. I hope you’re ready for it, because after the past weeks of trying to find you, I certainly am.
omeone was following her.
Sara’s heart rate jumped. Her steps accelerated. It was just a glimpse. Just a glimpse of a color. A man’s suit jacket. A man’s face. But every sense in her body suddenly focused.
She had seen him before.
Like last week in the garage.
Two days before in the other tower elevator.
Yesterday he had followed her down to the parking garage.
Her hand was already pushing the panic pager in her jacket pocket. She was on the concourse standing in front of the elevators. She had three prearranged routes to choose from. She chose the second, slipping into the ladies’ rest room with an abrupt move.
She had never thought any one of these contingencies would ever be used. Her pulse pounded in her ears as she rushed to the other rest room entrance.
Lord, it’s been three years since he’s gotten this close. Why now?
The elevator across the corridor was just opening.
Go, or not?
What should she do?
He knew she was in this room. She raced for the open elevator.
He’d seen her.
“Thirty-four, I’m late,” she gasped out to the other occupant of the elevator—needing the doors to close—desperate to have the doors close.
At the last minute, she knew she had made a fatal mistake. The elevator doors were not going to close in time.
God is my refuge in times of trouble.
The words first memorized in her childhood flooded her mind as someone bumped into the man she feared.
The elevator doors closed.
She was safe. For the moment. The lady with her in the elevator gave her a curious look but Sara ignored it. The cut outs and the safety routes, changing floors and using the stairs, would only delay her from getting where she was to where she needed to be. As soon as she pushed that panic page, her entire life had changed.
Her sole objective now was to reach the thirty-fourth floor. They were already responding. They knew which elevator she was in, knew she was moving up. They would be coming to meet her.
She was beginning to shake, but now it was with anger. For three years she had been safe, and now he was on her heels again. She deserved to be angry.
Come on, follow me
, she prayed as she rocked on her heels, watching the floor numbers tick by. If they could catch him, her nightmare would be over.
The elevator doors opened on the thirty-fourth floor. Sara stepped out. A glance up showed one other elevator moving up, now passing the thirtieth floor.
Let it be him. Please, let it be the guy following me. The last thing I want is a drawn-out search to find the man I saw.
She walked at her normal pace down the hall to her office suite, adrenaline pounding high, passing a man waiting to get on the third elevator. A lady was arranging a large bouquet of flowers in the hall display. The agents had been fast. They had made better time than in any of their frequent drills.
She heard the elevator door open behind her just as the security lock on her own office door clicked open and she stepped inside.
A voice behind her called her name. She ignored it.
A hand on her left shoulder moved her silently to the side and another body moved in front of her.
“One,” she whispered back. The hand on her shoulder gave a gentle squeeze.
“Down on your knees!”
It was over.
A panic page from the daughter of a U.S. ambassador, with a known stalker still active against her, could and would bring down the wrath of more than a few agents. Sara had left a very scared young man who could not be more than twenty-three sitting cuffed on the couch in the reception area of her office suite, answering questions coming at him from five very protective agents. She escaped downstairs to the FBI offices on the eighteenth floor. She paced the private office of the FBI regional director.
“Would you care to explain how you can now recall four encounters with this man who followed you, yet you mentioned none of them to your brother?” He leaned back against his desk. He wasn’t mad; he was furious.
“My ultimate safety rests solely with me, Mr. Marshall. I made the call when I felt there was a reasonable threat. Until that point, neither you nor my brother needed to know.” She spoke as the ambassador’s daughter she was and did not bother to hide the British accent nor the formality of her next order. “I would like to know who he is and why he was following me. I would also like to speak with the agents who responded so promptly, if you would not mind. They did an excellent job.”
The door opened and her brother Dave came in. He had been one of the three agents waiting inside her office when she had stepped inside, his body the one that had moved between her and the threat.
“Escort her upstairs.”
Dave draped his arm around her shoulders as they left the office together. “I love it when you get British, squirt.”
“Stuff it, Dave,” she replied affectionately, leaning against him.
He squeezed her shoulder. “Making it okay?”
She was a trembling mess. But it was over. Patching over the shakes was becoming all too common for her. “I could use some tea.”
“That I can probably arrange.” He gestured to another agent in the open bullpen of desks.
They went up to the thirty-fourth floor together. The suspect had just been taken downstairs.
“What have you found out, Dave?”
Her brother gestured toward the office where she created her children’s books, and they stepped inside. He shut the door behind them. “His name is Thomas Berman, and he was following you because he was instructed to do so. Apparently Adam wants to know your last name and where you work.” Dave said the last with something of a smile.
Sara sat down abruptly at her drawing table. “All of this—” she looked around, then shook her head, not sure whether to laugh or cry—“All of this was because of Adam Black?”
Adam looked up with a start. It was flat unheard of for his secretary to interrupt while he was on the phone.
Until now. “You are
going to believe this. Thomas Berman has just gotten himself arrested by the FBI!”
“Lance, I’ll call you back.”
Adam dropped the phone and ran both hands through his hair. This couldn’t be happening. All he wanted was a date.
A short time later, he was sitting with Jordan in the FBI office of agent David Richman, being questioned by an agent who had identified herself as Susan Vernon.
Adam was not used to getting stonewalled. “I would like to see my employee.”
“Of course, Mr. Black. You’ll be able to in due time. We are still trying to sort out exactly what happened.”
“What did happen, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Let’s just say that little red light above your head went red at 8:17 A.M., and life got a little interesting around here for a while.”
“What did Thomas do, interrupt a vice presidential speech?”
“Adam.” It was a quiet warning from Jordan.
“He followed and posed a threat to a lady we protect with a great deal of diligence,” replied a voice from the doorway. “Enough of a threat that she tripped a panic code. She hasn’t felt the need to do that in over three years.”
Adam swung around in the chair. “Sara?”
“Sara,” replied the man.
Adam wanted to swear but instead tightened his hands and deliberately relaxed them. “Is she okay?”
The man in the doorway relaxed his weight against the door frame, the shoulder holster he wore visible under his jacket. “I left her sketching dragons and fireflies,” he replied. “Susan, I’ll take back my office. Thanks for the assist.”
She smiled as she handed him the paperwork she had begun. “Anytime.”
Adam watched Agent Richman move around the desk and take a seat.
The man looked back at him, studying him. “So, you want to know her last name and where she works. Why?”
“Does it matter?”
“Adam.” It was another soft warning from Jordan.
The FBI agent waved away the warning. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s see… there was an incident in an elevator that went dark and stopped, followed by coffee at the Marque Hotel, an invitation to phone, a ball for your dog, an invitation to lunch, an invitation to coffee accompanied by a rose, an apology accompanied by two basketball game tickets— tickets which I would very much like to know how she obtained—and finally, a decision by you to try to tail her from her car to the place she worked in order to learn the information you sought. Would that be a fair summary of events?”
Since the man had given the list from memory and certainly not from any paperwork, Adam raised an eyebrow. “May I presume you are the Dave she speed dialed to tell she would be home at ten-thirty?” Adam ignored the fact Jordan had turned and looked ready to throttle him. Most of what the agent had just said, Jordan was hearing for the first time.
“Let’s just say Sara and I don’t have too many secrets.” The agent tapped his pen against the pad of paper on his desk. “However, your employee Thomas appears to have been one of them. She hadn’t mentioned to any of us the impression she was being followed. She hit a panic code this morning, and Sara hasn’t done that in the last three years.”
“Who is she?”
“No one you would know, I assure you. She writes children’s books for five-year-olds. And where said five-year-olds are concerned, she is quite famous.”
“But that’s not why she has you and all of this.” Adam gestured about him.
“What is Thomas Berman being charged with?” Jordan asked.
“In light of the… unusual nature of what occurred, we’ll discuss it. In all likelihood, no formal charges will be made.”
Adam felt relieved at that news.
He leaned forward in his chair and considered the man across from him. Dave. His competition? His adversary? Or his potential ally? Dave clearly knew what had happened to Sara in the past, and Adam knew with absolute conviction that he wanted—no needed—to know every detail of that information. “May I see Sara?”
Dave considered for a moment and then nodded. He picked up his phone. “Sara, I have some guests who would like to see you. May we come up?”
He made a face even as he smiled, turning slightly in his chair. “You are driving a hard bargain, lady. Are you sure?”
“Okay, okay. Anything in particular sound good?”
“Done. We’ll be up in a few minutes.”
He hung up the phone. “Let’s go meet Sara.”
Dave led the way. “Susan, would you call Dirk and ask him to cater us lunch here and in Sara’s suite? She’s making me buy again, for everybody, so make sure he knows he’s catering for about thirty people.”
Susan laughed. “Glad to.”
“You know she’s doing this deliberately just so I’ll go broke one day.”
“With your private expense account? That’ll be the day,” Susan replied. “Tell her thanks from all of us.”
Thomas had been right. Sara did work in the east tower. They took the elevator to the thirty-fourth floor.
They had to pass two FBI agents to enter Sara’s office suite. The gold stenciling on the plaque outside simply said: S W, Ltd.
Sara’s secretary met them with a smile and a Texas accent as she asked if they would like something to drink. Adam declined. Jordan, with an answering smile, asked for a soft drink.
“Have a seat, gentlemen.” Dave motioned and moved to a closed door where he tapped softly.
Adam was impressed with Sara’s suite. The reception area was a profusion of flowers and fauna, the couch, chairs, and tables placed together for a visitor’s comfort.
It was a beautiful, comfortable, relaxing room.
The wall displayed children’s books, the covers enticing one to linger and browse. Several of the covers carried the gold medallion of a major award. Interesting. It wasn’t what Adam would have placed as her profession, yet it fit. Her work was exceptional.
Her secretary brought Jordan his drink. A phone rang and she retreated to an open office off the reception area to answer it.
“Adam, you really should play it cool when you see Sara. Apologize profusely. These guys are close to having legal rights to charge you with harassment.”
“Probably not, but they could make your life miserable. As your lawyer, as well as your brother-in-law, I strongly suggest you promise to keep your distance and never seek her out again.”
“She’s not going to take it that way.”
“Oh, really? You said she was really terrified by that experience in the elevator. How do you think she felt this morning at the moment she hit that panic code? Fine? You managed to scare the daylights out of her. Don’t expect a nice reception here.”
Adam already knew that. He had known it the moment the agent had said Sara had sent a panic code. He had seen her cope with the incident in the elevator and pull herself together so quickly it made his head spin. He only hoped she had coped in the same way with this morning’s incident.
Adam would never knowingly have caused her trauma… . but the hard truth was that he had. It was inexcusable. He owed her more than just an apology, but he didn’t want his actions to cause her yet more grief.
“Come on in, gentlemen.” Dave gestured from the now open doorway.
It was obviously Sara’s domain. There were sketches and storyboards all around, large work surfaces laying out books in progress. It was a place that any child would have found enthralling. The pictures and sketches conveyed the talent of a world-class artist. The room was vibrant in colors and the flowers were profuse.
She was sketching, a colored pencil in one hand, a cup of tea in the other.
Dave walked over and set his hand on her shoulder. He looked at the sketch. “This one is pretty neat.”
She smiled, still looking at the sketch, then she glanced up at them and lowered her gaze back to the sketch.
Adam did not like the tense look in her face that had yet to fade.
She set down the cup of tea, pulled the sketch from the pad, and handed it to Dave. “Add it to your collection.”