Read Pursuit Online

Authors: Elizabeth Jennings

Pursuit

From the desk of Elizabeth Jennings ( aka Lisa Marie Rice )

Dear reader,

Charlotte Court, the heroine in PURSUIT (available now), is a truly gifted artist, who
perfected her craft in Florence, Italy. Art is her entire life until a murderer comes after her
and she has to go on the run to Baja California. That’s where she meets Matt, a former
Navy SEAL, a rough, tough guy, who falls head over heels for her and is blown away by
her talent.

Like Charlotte, I spent a number of years in Florence, Italy, immersed in an artistic
environment. My mom worked at a US graduate school of fine arts—now, alas, defunct—

in a beautiful villa nestled in the green hills just below Fiesole, Villa Schifanoia. Legend has
it that this was the villa where the young Florentine noblemen and women fled to avoid the
plague in Boccaccio’s Decameron.

We lived around the corner from a fabulous international art school that was in itself a
small masterpiece. It was in a 16th century deconsecrated church in the Borgo San
Frediano, simply a stunning place to study art. Just a glimpse inside felt like being
magically transported back to a Greek or a Roman temple.

I’m arty, but not visually gifted like the students I grew up around. I love words. At the time,
I was learning characterization, hooks, and motivation, studying the masters, going over
the writing again and again and again, revising and rewriting until I got it right.

I founded a writer’s group in Florence that met in the basement of the American church—

quite an eclectic group of people. I was the only one writing romance and it did me good to
pit myself against those who had no sympathy for or knowledge of the genre. It stiffened
my spine. And, boy, did I learn how to tighten up my writing.

Since I was putting myself through this intense apprenticeship, exactly as a young
Renaissance artisan working in a bottega or the young artists in that beautiful school, I had
an enormous amount of sympathy for the work involved in becoming proficient at an art.

Charlotte Court was born then in my mind, all those years ago. A beautiful woman,
exceedingly gifted and hardworking, who lives for her art. I had her study at this wonderful
art school. She was alive to me—her drive to paint and draw almost obsessive, yet totally
understandable.

I have held Charlotte in my head and heart all these years, and in this, my eighth book, I
have finally given her life.

She is put to the test in PURSUIT. Wounded and hunted, she shows immense courage
and fortitude. I like to think that her art gives her strength and grace.

Happy reading!

SHE COULD NEVER TELL HIM WHO SHE WAS.

“Is he alive?” Matt asked, his deep voice quiet.

“Alive?” Charlotte’s heart had finally stopped thudding so hard. She was able to breathe normally again. “Who?”

“The man who shot you.” The stark words hung there in the silent room. Charlotte met his eyes, so dark and compelling. She couldn’t begin to imagine what he was thinking. For a moment, the desire to ease her huge burden off her shoulders and share it with another human being was so fierce she had to bite her lips to keep from spilling it out. Telling the truth could be fatal, and yet she couldn’t lie to him. She nodded once, jerkily. “Yes,” she whispered, her voice trembling. “He’s alive.”

The grooves around his mouth deepened. His big fists clenched once, hard, and relaxed. It was the only movement he made. He became, if possible, even more still. “No one will ever hurt you again, Charlotte. You have my word on it.”

This book is fondly dedicated to my husband, Alfredo and to my son, David.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I’d like to thank my wonderful editor, Karen Kosztolnyik and fabulous agent, Ethan Ellenberg.

PROLOGUE

Warrenton, Upstate New York

February 20

Eight billion dollars.

All that was standing in the way of $8 billion was an old man dying of pancreatic cancer and his cold bitch of a daughter. Once Philip and Charlotte Court were dead, he could cash in. In about an hour, it would be a done deal.

Robert Haine ran his finger over the preliminary contract with the Pentagon. The figure was written in letters and digits, simple laser-produced strokes of ink on paper, but he found it impossible to lift his hand from the document.

Haine wasn’t a fanciful man—indeed, being a cold-eyed realist had taken him far in life—

but it seemed to him that the letters grew warm under his fingers. Eight billion dollars. On May 30. He’d be a billionaire in three months’ time. True, the money wasn’t, strictly speaking, his. Strictly speaking, it belonged to Court Industries, or rather to Philip Court and his beautiful daughter, Charlotte. It would have been his by rights if Charlotte had married him. That had been the plan. But his careful courtship of her had gone nowhere. The tasteful expensive gifts, the flowers, the dinner invitations—all turned down.

Still, he was CEO of the company, and the Proteus Project was his. His baby, his idea, rammed through over the objections of the Courts.

Haine was now a mega-rainmaker. Billion-dollar contracts were the stuff of legend, and he’d suddenly become a man who could bring in ten digits, a man who had the power to move so much money it would take a train convoy to ship it in cash. There was no going back. He couldn’t lose this.

He was rich now.

He was good at being rich, too. He knew how to do it right. The Courts, both father and daughter, sucked at it. Fuckers had had money for more generations than he’d had hot meals as a child, and you’d never know it. Philip dressed in old, comfortable clothes and ancient shoes made by an English cobbler a thousand years ago. He’d once boasted that the ragged old tweed jacket he had on had belonged to his father. Robert had nearly gagged.

They had a huge three-hundred-year-old pile of bricks along the river that hadn’t been renovated in fifty years. Everything in it was shabby. “Comfortable” they called it. There was no sense to it, either. Charlotte’s watercolors were hung right next to the two Winslow Homers her great-grandmother had bought from the painter himself. The Homers were worth a cool $2 million, and Charlotte’s watercolors were worth exactly zero since she didn’t exhibit, but there they were—together on the same wall. Charlotte could have had all the jewelry she wanted, but all she ever wore were her mother’s and grandmother’s rings. And Charlotte herself . . . with those cool gray eyes studying him, finding him wanting. If she had accepted him in her bed, he’d have showered her with Bulgari rings and Damiani bracelets, but the little bitch wouldn’t give him the time of day. Nothing he could do would catch her attention for more than a minute. He might as well have been a neutered dog. Here he was, saving her company for her, and she couldn’t look at him for more than a minute without yawning.

There was nothing he could do to impress her. She didn’t seem to give a shit that he’d taken the company from the brink of bankruptcy and had turned it around in five years. No matter that instead of a slow slide into bankruptcy, the end of a company that had been in the Court family since 1854, Court Industries had been turned into a leading-edge provider of precision equipment and that he’d worked eighteen-hour days for years to do it. He’d saved the Courts’ asses, and they weren’t even noticing. Philip Court was on a respirator, dying, and Charlotte Court didn’t care about anything but her father. What the fuck did she care if the company went under? She probably had enough socked away for life. Charlotte had a rich aunt in Chicago who’d left her a bundle she hadn’t even touched. There was enough crap in that musty old mansion of theirs to keep her for a hundred years. No, Miss Cold Bitch would never know poverty and degradation, would never live in a trailer park. She had no idea how low you can fall and never would. Well, she’d asked for it.

Charlotte had no clue that when she refused him first, then the Pentagon contract, she had suddenly made herself into a roadblock, a wall to his ambitions.

All his life Haine had been able to see the next step and the one beyond that and channel his energy in the direction he wanted events to go. It always amazed him that people could be so blind to consequences, not
see
. Haine could. He could war-game it so easily. Philip Court was about to die—Haine checked his watch, the slimmest of Huguets—in about twenty minutes. Wasn’t even murder, really. Just a little speeding up of the natural schedule.

Haine had outsourced that task to his chief of security, Martin Conklin, and his team. Conklin was scheduled to call in half an hour to say that part one of the mission was complete. Philip Court was dead in his intensive care unit. That was easy—who was going to do an autopsy on a guy dying of pancreatic cancer, wasting away in some elegant private clinic, listening to Mozart? Conklin—who was good at impersonations—would place the call to Charlotte.
Ms. Court, this is Sebastian Orvis at Parkwood Hospital. I’m
afraid I have some bad news.
He’d then drive to the dangerous curve on Overlook, where Charlotte would lose her life.

Haine started rehearsing the solemn tones he’d use at the club, lamenting the tragedy over a vodka martini.

Well, you know how distraught Charlotte’s been lately. Practically living in that hospital
room. Beautiful young woman like that, it’s not natural, spending all her time with a sick
man. There had to be a reaction. Such a loving daughter, but she was exhausted. And you
know what the road is like just above Overlook. That’s a really tricky curve. Why just the
other day, my car slipped and almost bounced off the guardrail at that exact point.
Charlotte’s never been a good driver. The car just spun out of control. What a tragedy.
What a waste. Court Industries? Why I guess I’ll just have to carry on without Philip. That’s
what he would have wanted. Charlotte, too.

Haine trusted Conklin to run her off the road. He’d been trained and trained well in offensive driving.

The phone rang and Haine frowned when he saw the caller ID. It was way too soon for Conklin to be calling.

“Yes?” Haine answered. As always, no names. Not on cell phones, not on landlines.

“We got a problem.” The cell-phone connection was lousy, crackling and hissing. Was Conklin
panting
?

“What?” Haine’s voice was calm, but the hairs on his neck were standing up. This was supposed to be
easy
. It was just a thing that had to be done to get to the other side of the road, without any fuss.

“She was there already.”

Every hair on his body was standing up.

“Bitch whacked me with the IV tree. A nurse got in the way, and I had to take her down, too. But I winged Court. Through the shoulder, I think. She’s bleeding, I followed her trail out of the hospital, but she’s gone.”

Shitshitshit!!!

And then it came to him complete, like a storyboard.

“I’m going to have to go down to police headquarters. Can you meet me there?”

“Yeah. There’s going to be fallout, though. The old guy’s room is a mess, and there’s a dead nurse outside.”

Haine was thinking fast. He had ten men in CI’s Security Department to deploy. He’d hired well. They were loyal to him, not the company.

“Don’t worry about that. You’ll be meeting up with Vaneyck, Oakley, and Ryan outside police headquarters. Stop Charlotte from getting into the police station. Use any means you want, but make sure she doesn’t get through. No matter what.” Conklin would know exactly what he meant. “Send the rest of the men to the Court mansion. Don’t let her get in. The gun you shot the nurse with—is it untraceable?”

“Of course.” Conklin sounded shocked.

“What is it?”

“Smith & Wesson 908.”

Perfect, Haine thought. It only weighed twenty-four ounces and had a small grip. The kind of gun a woman would choose.

“Wipe it down. Did you load the magazine like I told you?”

“With latex gloves? Yeah.”

Okay. There would be no fingerprints on the weapon traceable back to Conklin. Now they needed Charlotte’s fingers. With or without her hand attached.

Haine war-gamed the new version. For the benefit of Chief Brzynski and that new anchorwoman on WRCTV, the cute one with the tight ass, what was her name? Anna. Anna Lorenzetti.

Other books

Flesh Failure by Sèphera Girón
Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman
All She Craved by Cami Stark
Hot & Cold by Susannah McFarlane
The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov
Conflict of Interest by Allyson Lindt