Special Gifts

Special Gifts

Anne Stuart

August 2019 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-954-4

A dangerous man . . .
Unanswered questions . . .

 
Our PriceUS$14.95
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A dangerous man . . .

 

The man who’d broken into Elizabeth Hardy’s Colorado house was no lost ski bum. Her inexplicable and intuitive powers, those unwanted gifts, were always vague, but she knew that much. Sam Oliver was tall, dark, and deadly—a liar and a trickster, and she’d finally found a man she couldn’t ignore.

Off limits . . .

She didn’t look like a fraud and a liar, and after years in Army Intelligence Col. Sam Oliver should know. Instead Elizabeth Hardy was a pale, vulnerable-looking waif, though he didn’t buy her innocent act. He’d always made it a rule to keep his hands off his targets. Some rules were made to be broken.

Unanswered questions . . .

With a young housewife missing and presumed dead, there were no simple answers to any number of questions. Why did the missing woman look exactly like the also-missing daughter of the secretary of state? Why did Elizabeth want to trust him, why did Sam suddenly want to believe in psychics? For God’s sake, why couldn’t they resist each other?

And the biggest question of all: would they survive to find out what was going on between them? Or was all hell about to break loose?


About the Author: Anne Stuart recently celebrated over forty years as a published author. She has won every major award in the romance field and appeared on the bestseller list of the NYTimes, Publisher’s Weekly, and USA Today, as well as being featured in Vogue, People Magazine, and Entertainment Tonight. Anne lives by a lake in the hills of Northern Vermont with her fabulous husband.


Reviews

RITA FINALIST!

"Elizabeth, Oliver, and danger. Certainly a combination you ought not miss!” -Maldivian Book Reviews


 


Excerpt


Chapter 1

THERE WAS A RED shoe lying in the dust. The leather was shiny, new, with a few scuff marks marring the satiny sheen, and the heel was broken off. There was blood, old, brown and dried, but unquestionably blood. On the shoe, in the dust, on the splintery wooden steps of the deserted building. Too much blood for one person to lose and still survive.

They were in the mountains. Elizabeth could see the jagged peaks of the Rockies behind the deserted building, could sense the snow that lingered in the air, ready to strike like a predatory hawk. A car, no, a truck was off to one side. It was blue, and fairly new despite its beat-up condition. It had gold stripes on the side and a smashed-in left rear fender

Elizabeth stopped abruptly. It was cold. So very, very cold, making her shiver to the depths of her bones, a frigid sheet of ice that nothing would melt. She could feel the pain start in her shoulder blades and radiate outward, rigid shafts of pain spiking through her muscles, shattering her head, making her moan. And then sweat broke out, a cold, terrified sweat that left her drenched and shaking and too weak to fight it.

She squeezed her eyes shut, ignoring the pain, trying to concentrate on the truck, on the cargo in the back.

But the smell of blood lingered in her nostrils, dried blood, fresh blood; the cold pierced her heart, and the agony in her head felt like it would burst. With a cry of hopelessness she sank back against the metal chair, releasing the vision as she opened her eyes.

"What did you see?”

They weren’t in a mountainside camp in the Rockies, and there wasn’t a drop of spilled blood around them. Elizabeth Hardy sat in the least threatening interrogation room of a Denver police station, the metal folding chair hard and solid beneath her clutching fingers, the half-skeptical, half-sympathetic eyes of Police Detective Phil Grayson opposite her doing little to bring back her peace of mind.

Her breath was coming in shuddering gasps, and the cold sweat that covered her too-thin body made her shiver in the warm room. "Nothing new,” she said finally, her voice husky and strained. "The shoe, the blood, the front steps, were pretty much as I described them. It was in the Rockies, but we’d assumed that anyway.”

Phil nodded, his broad, middle-aged face creased in thought. "It’s good to have verification, though.”

"Such as it is.” Elizabeth was able to breathe more evenly now, and the ice around her had dissolved under the bright lights. "I know you have your doubts about how much I’m able to help.”

Phil had the grace to flush, his red face darkening. "We’ve worked together long enough, Elizabeth. I can’t deny that you see things no one can explain. Things that have proved helpful time and time again. It’s just that I’m a practical man—I’ve spent twenty years in the Army and another ten on the force here, and it’s hard for me to accept the fact that I need help from a... a...”

"Psychic,” Elizabeth provided glumly. A stray shudder racked her body beneath the thick wool sweater.

"Why do you do it?” Grayson questioned, leaning forward across the narrow metal table that separated them. "When it tears you up so much, why do you volunteer for this work? Why don’t you just turn it off, forget it?”

"Don’t you think I would if I could?” she said in a weary voice, pushing back a strand of thick brown hair that had escaped the bun at the back of her slender neck. "I’m afraid it doesn’t just turn off and on like that. The visions would come, whether I wanted them to or not. I might as well put them to some use.” She let out a long, pent-up breath. "I did see a truck this time.”

"Terrific.” Grayson pulled a notepad in front of him. "I suppose a license plate number is too much to hope for?”

"No license plates. It didn’t have them,” she said, feeling a little more self-assured. "It was a late-model panel truck, blue with gold stripes, beat-up, with a bashed-in left rear fender. It had... it had...” She struggled to crystallize the thought. "It had writing on the side of the door. Or it used to. I think it had been painted over, but I can sort of see it.” Her dark brown eyes closed for a second. "The Spandau Corporation.”

Grayson’s pencil broke. "You’re sure? The Spandau Corporation?” His voice was almost as strained as hers.

Elizabeth stared at him. "I’m sure. Why? I’ve never even heard of them. Have you?”

"I’ve heard of them,” Grayson said in a grim voice.

"Do you think they have something to do with Mary Nelson’s disappearance?”

"I never would have thought so. The Spandau Corporation shouldn’t have a damn thing to do with the disappearance of a thirty-two-year-old suburban housewife. It’ll be up to us to find the connection.” He looked more than dubious; he looked deeply troubled. "Did you see anything else?”

Elizabeth shook her head. "Nothing. Maybe later.” She yawned, then stretched her cramped, aching muscles.

"Maybe later,” Grayson echoed. "You want a ride home, Elizabeth?”

"No, thanks. I drove, and the snow’s not bad yet. I can make it home if I leave now.”

"You’ll call me if something else comes up? If you... see something new?” Grayson was clearly still uncomfortable with the notion that vital clues could just materialize from Elizabeth’s brain, but he persevered.

"Of course. But there shouldn’t be anything for a few days. You know I need a little time between sessions.” She watched him out of steady eyes. Phil Grayson was nervous, agitated and anxious to get rid of her. Usually he offered her coffee, lunch, or they just sat around and talked while he smoked his incessant cigarettes. She was his daughter’s age, and she knew that he felt protective toward her. But not today. Something more important was riding him, and if Elizabeth had had any more energy left she would have wondered what it was.

But her last reserves of energy were fading fast. Which was just as well—no answers would be forthcoming, no matter how hard she probed, from the man opposite her or her own mysterious mind. Grayson was too stubborn, and her mind was too weary. She’d simply have to wait until he was ready to talk to her.

Grayson had risen, and she could see the tension and impatience radiate through his body. "Drive carefully, Elizabeth. You’ll be home this weekend? In case I need to talk to you?”

"Yes.”

PHIL GRAYSON’S eyes were troubled as he watched her leave. She was too thin—he’d told her that time and time again. That slender neck looked too fragile to bear the weight of the heavy coil of dark brown hair, and her eyes were too large for her pale, oval face. It always amazed him to see how much these sessions took out of her. She would come in looking pale but energetic, and when the sessions were over she would look as if she’d run a marathon. Sweating, ashen, breathing hard and completely exhausted. Whatever his doubts as to the legitimacy of her peculiar gifts, there was no question in his mind that they were very real and very traumatic for her.

But he couldn’t worry about her right now. The words she’d spoken so innocently had brought back an anger ten years old, a fear and determination that wiped out any minor consideration. He reached for the phone in front of him, dialed a handful of numbers, then went through four deliberately vague departments before tracking down his quarry. "Oliver here.”

"Sam,” Grayson said with a sigh of relief. "I thought I was never going to get to you. Since when has Army Intelligence been so inaccessible?”

"Since you left, Grayson,” Sam Oliver replied instantly. "They keep me locked away from temptation—they don’t want me running off to the Rocky Mountains like you did.”

"I’d had enough, Sam. I’m surprised you can still stomach it.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "So am I,” he said softly. "You didn’t call on a social matter, Phil. I know you too well. What’s up?”

"Still the same. We’ve got problems. Or, more specifically, you’ve got problems. It’s out of my jurisdiction, and I don’t know how I’m going to explain it to you without you thinking I’m out of my mind.”

"Try me. You’ve never steered me wrong before.”

"Sam, it’s about the Spandau Corporation.” Dead silence on the other end of the line. "Did you hear me, Sam? We’ve got this woman here...”

"Don’t say anything more, Phil.” Oliver’s words were short, terse, his tone dangerous indeed. "I’m coming out there. You haven’t said anything to anyone yet, have you?”

"Sam, we worked together long enough for you to know me better than that. When can you get here?”

"Tonight. Don’t tell anyone I’m coming—I’ll just show up at your place. You still live alone?”

"Marge has the girls,” he said glumly. "Yup, I’ll be alone. You still drink Johnny Walker Red?”

"No, I’ve switched to white wine,” Sam drawled. "Of course I drink Johnny Walker. See you, buddy.”

"See you.” Phil Grayson stared at the phone in his hand, then slowly replaced it. His instincts, such as they were, had been correct. The moment Elizabeth Hardy had said "Spandau Corporation” they’d been in big trouble.

He shouldn’t be so uncomfortable with her. Those visions of hers—those near trances that had produced information over the past two years that had saved lives, recovered hidden bankrolls, even found lost pets—were probably nothing more than simple human instinct gone haywire. But damn, he’d feel a lot better if he were able to find some concrete explanation for them. He was going to have a hell of a time explaining all this to Sam Oliver without sounding like a gullible fool at best. Sam could be blisteringly frank on occasion, and he had little time for metaphysics.

Phil would have to warn him, of course. Elizabeth Hardy wasn’t the type to stand up to his browbeating tactics, and if he knew Sam, he’d try to shake her story. It would be a cold day in hell before he’d believe it. Phil would have to run interference between the two of them—there was no way he was going to stand by and let Sam make mincemeat out of her.

Though Elizabeth had more grit than he sometimes realized. She might very well be able to stand up to Sam better than anyone imagined. He reached for the phone, almost tempted to warn her, then thought better of it. Sam had told him to keep his mouth shut, and that was what he’d do. The Spandau Corporation was too important to mess with. If Sam said he’d be there tonight, he’d be there, and even a raging blizzard wouldn’t stop him. Phil thanked God it would be out of his hands in another few hours.

SHE SHOULD HAVE taken the offer of a ride, Elizabeth thought as she squinted through the rapidly falling snow. The roads were horrible, with just enough icy snow to make them a skating rink. They’d be better in another hour, when the snow had accumulated enough to give her some dubious traction, but at that point they were treacherous indeed, and she barely had enough energy to devote her full attention to the weather.

But if she’d left her car, she would have had to go back for it or be stuck out at her house with no transportation in the midst of a nice little winter snowstorm, or so the weather report had deemed it. Typical for January, but in two years she still hadn’t gotten used to the weather. She had no intention of venturing out during the thick of it, but she hated the feeling of isolation when she was without a car. It was a psychological, rather than a physical, deprivation, and therefore even worse. For reasons she didn’t care to examine she needed an escape hatch before she could be at peace.

But what she needed right now was home, as fast and as safely as she could make it. She would have just enough energy to dump wood on the fire, take a hot shower and then fall into bed and sleep through the blizzard.

She always slept like the dead after one of those sessions. It drained her body of life and energy, and the only way she began to recover was to sleep the clock around, only to face the start of the cycle once more.

But she didn’t have to think of that. All she had to think about was the calm and peace of her house hidden in the woods. And hours and hours of sleep. Then maybe she could try again to find Mary Nelson’s body.

Because Mary Nelson was dead. There was no doubt at all in Elizabeth’s mind, no hope still clinging. But as Phil Grayson had pointed out, that had no bearing on the necessity of finding out just what had happened to her. One day she was a pretty young wife and mother from Golden, Colorado, the next she was gone. Dead, and no one knew why, or how, or where. Or, apart from Elizabeth Hardy, whether she was dead at all.

She was the fourth young woman to disappear in the past few months. The other three bodies had turned up before long, raped, their throats cut, with no clue to the random killer who’d just happened to choose them.

But Mary Nelson hadn’t been found. In every other way she fit the pattern, but she’d been missing for almost a week, and her body still hadn’t turned up. The tension in the area around Denver had mounted to almost vigilante pitch.

Her driveway was nearly obscured by the heavy snow, and Elizabeth skidded as she turned sharply, the Subaru sliding into a snowbank and then back out again. It was lucky she had enough food in the pantry and the freezer, she thought as the wheels spun and she careened the quarter of a mile up her twisting drive to the house Alan Spencer’s money had bought for her. She wasn’t planning to go anywhere until the roads were clear and the western skies were blue once more.

And maybe the damnable, haunting visions would give her a few days’ respite. She didn’t want to have to think of Mary Nelson’s fate, didn’t want to suddenly envision where her body might be lying, her face battered beyond recognition

Now how did she know that? Her palms were sweating through the heavily lined gloves, and the pounding in her head increased. The Subaru slid to an abrupt halt against another pile of snow, and she turned the engine off and stumbled from the car, not even bothering to get it into the dubious protection of the carport. The snow was already past her ankles this far up the mountain, but she ignored it as she made her way with blind desperation into the shelter of her snug little house.

She didn’t turn on the lights; she didn’t bother with the fire; she didn’t head for the shower. She turned up the electric heat, kicked off her shoes and walked blindly toward the bedroom, tumbling onto the unmade bed with a moan of pain as she burrowed under the covers. With the electric blanket hovering between nine and ten, she shut her eyes, both against the pain and the visions, and willed herself to sleep. And in this small matter her body obeyed her.

SAM OLIVER SAT in the small jet, his long legs stretched out in front of him, silently thanking God he didn’t have to cope with public transportation and the narrow little seats and aisles in most commercial airplanes. And he didn’t have to give reasons. All he’d had to do was call a number, order a plane, and half an hour later it was at his disposal at a private airfield outside of Langley. He had the best pilot the U.S. government had to offer to steer them through the thickening snow that blanketed Denver, and if he had to rely on his own flask of Johnny Walker, instead of one dispensed by a long-legged stewardess, it was a small enough deprivation. He was in no mood to appreciate long legs.

All he had to do was sit back and think. Think about the sudden, ominous reappearance of the Spandau Corporation, and what it could have to do with a possible kidnapping in Golden, Colorado.

He figured that part out before the plane even left the ground. His secretary had provided him with a week’s worth of Denver papers, and the disappearance was front-page news, with Phil Grayson quoted as saying the police were working on several leads. One of which appeared to be the Spandau Corporation.

Sam would have to put a stop to that. Word of the Spandau Corporation wasn’t supposed to have gone beyond a few tightly restricted rooms in Washington. For them to have turned up in Colorado suggested all sorts of possibilities, none of them pleasant.

And most unpleasant of all was the possible connection with the disappearance of Mary Nelson, a pretty, thirty-two-year-old blond housewife, and the terrorist kidnapping of Shari Derringer, the blond, thirty-year-old daughter of the secretary of state.

So far they’d been able to keep that one under wraps. She’d been snatched three days ago, and word from the kidnappers was ominously vague. It had been with a real chill that Sam Oliver had looked at the picture of Mary Nelson’s pretty face and recognized the resemblance to the kidnapped Washington socialite.

He hadn’t had time to brief his superiors. There was a task force working on the Derringer case, and he wasn’t really involved. This might turn out to be a wild-goose chase, and then again, it might not. In the meantime, the less said the better. Kempton and his boys were busy enough following a thousand red herrings—Sam could follow his own lead in peace.

Provided they landed in one piece. Sam looked out the window of the small Army plane into the swirling snowstorm and shrugged. It had been years since he’d felt something as mundane as human fear. If the pilot didn’t make it, there wasn’t much he could do about it. If he did mate it, then it would be time for Sam to get to work. Either way, it was out of his hands. Leaning back, he shut his eyes, emptied his mind and promptly fell asleep.


 


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