Now You See Him

Now You See Him

Anne Stuart

February 2015 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-911

Who is the villain, and who is the savior? The wrong answer means death.

 
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Francey Neeley’s life has been torn to pieces. Her handsome and charming Irish boyfriend turned out to be a terrorist who was only after her fortune and planned to kill her once he got it. His "sister” forced Francey to help her attempt a rescue when his cover was blown during a mission to assassinate a world leader. Francey barely escaped with her life in the shoot-out.

Now Francey’s secluded herself amidst the beautiful, healing atmosphere of Belle Reste, her cousin’s resort on a Jamaican island. She’s emotionally shattered and remains under a cloud of suspicion even after being interrogated by every major law enforcement agency.

Warning bells go off from the moment British school teacher Michael Dowd arrives to recuperate from a car accident. Though he’s obviously recovering from serious injuries, she sees glimpses of a coldly efficient predator that make her wary of her intense attraction to him. She made one horrible mistake already . . .

Michael Dowd is there to find out the truth about her involvement; he’ll seduce her if that’s what it takes. And if he learns she was one of the terrorists, he’ll kill her.

But someone on the island is trying to kill them both. How will Francey know who to trust when Michael disappears and reappears as a perfect stranger? Who is the villain, and who is the savior? The wrong answer means death.

 Anne Stuart is a grandmaster of the genre, winner of Romance Writers of America's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, survivor of more than forty years in the romance business, and still just keeps getting better. Her general outrageousness has gotten her on Entertainment Tonight, as well as in Vogue, People, USA Today, Women’s Day and countless other national newspapers and magazines. Anne’s multi-genre booklist appears on numerous award and bestseller lists. Visit her at Anne-Stuart.com.

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Excerpt

Prologue

"THEY’RE GOING to kill him!” Caitlin Dugan pushed past Frances Neeley’s partially open door into the Greenwich Village apartment.

Francey knew Caitlin better than she wanted to and was far too ac­customed to her fits of melodrama. She simply continued toweling her hair, wishing she hadn’t gone to the trouble of getting out of her bath to come face-to-face with Caitlin’s hysteria. "What are you talking about?” she asked patiently, planting herself in Caitlin’s way. She didn’t want the woman to see the apartment, or it might precipitate an even greater crisis.

Her converted loft was set for seduction. Francey and her distant cousin Patrick Dugan were going to make love that night, after weeks and months of careful courtship. He’d finally been able to break down her resistance, her natural reluctance to surrender, and for some reason it had always seemed like a surrender. But finally, tonight, she was ready. Once Patrick returned from the demonstration they were going to cele­brate in truly memorable style, he’d promised her, kissing her before he left. And she’d told herself that she’d waited long enough—if she really loved him, there was no reason to wait any longer. Was there?

But Caitlin was an oddly possessive sister, jealous where she had no moral, Catholic right to be. She wouldn’t like the notion of Francey and Patrick going to bed together. She wouldn’t like the notion of anyone coming close to her brother. And her expected protest would only strengthen Francey’s lingering doubts.

But Caitlin was uninterested in either the apartment or Francey. "They’re going to kill Patrick!” she shrieked. "Did you talk to anybody? Tell them anything you shouldn’t?” She grabbed the lapels of Francey’s terry-cloth bathrobe in her sharp little hands, yanking at her. "Did you turn him in, you traitorous bitch?”

Francey shoved her away, wiping the angry spittle off her face. "You must be absolutely crazy,” she said, disgust and pity mixed. "I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re ranting about. You know as well as I do that Patrick’s at the anti-British demonstrations while the Queen speaks at the UN. And why aren’t you there, for that matter? Don’t you care about a free Ireland?”

"Don’t give me that. Patrick hasn’t gone to waste his time shouting slogans. The time for that passed decades ago. Why the hell do you think he borrowed your car? He wouldn’t need a quick getaway from a simple demonstration.” The green eyes in her narrow, pointed face were bright with contempt.

"What are you talking about?”

"Patrick’s gone to kill that royal bitch. Then maybe they’ll pay atten­tion. But some dirty, sneaking traitor has ratted on him, and he’s going to be shot down like a dog.”

Horror overcame Francey’s shocked disbelief. "No!” she said, una­ble to push her doubt away. With sudden clarity, she realized that beneath Patrick’s rich Irish charm was a streak of fanaticism that ran deeper than she’d ever wanted to admit. "But he’s coming back here.”

"Of course he is,” Caitlin scoffed. "He’s coming back to screw you, get you to marry him, and then get back into Ireland using you as a cover. You must have said something, told someone, you stupid id­iot—”

"I didn’t talk to anyone,” she said numbly. This isn’t happening, she thought, pulling the robe more tightly around her. It can’t be...

"Get your clothes on.”

"Why?”

"You’re coming with me. Maybe we have a chance to save him. You love him, don’t you?” she demanded, her voice full of contempt. "You were about to go to bed with him. You wanted to marry him and donate all your money to the bloody cause, didn’t you? Get dressed!” she shrieked.

It took Francey less than two minutes to pull on jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, ignoring the silky lingerie she’d bought in preparation for tonight, ignoring the perfumed scent of her bathwater. Even if she hadn’t wanted to go, she would have had no choice. Caitlin was fierce and dangerous, and Francey was no match for her kind of dirty street fighting.

She didn’t recognize the car Caitlin had waiting outside. She didn’t bother to ask where it came from—she didn’t want to know the answer. They drove through the New York streets like any New Yorker, with speed and desperation. The streets surrounding the UN were blocked off, as usual, and Caitlin simply left the car standing in the middle of Forty-eighth Street, grabbing Francey’s wrist and dragging her toward the huge modern complex of buildings.

They could hear the noise of the demonstration from a distance. There were television cameras everywhere, noise and light and confu­sion. In the swirling mass of angry demonstrators there was no sign of Patrick, no sign of his broad, smiling face, his charming green eyes, his warmth. He couldn’t be a murderer, Francey thought. Caitlin must have been doing drugs. She must have finally flipped. She must...

"There he is,” Caitlin breathed, stopping short, her Irish lilt rich with satisfaction. "They haven’t seen him yet. There’s still a chance.”

Francey peered into the shifting crowds, squinting against the glare of the television lights amidst the mass of media equipment. "Where? I don’t see him.”

"Maybe we’ll still be able to pull this off. Move over there and keep your mouth shut. We’ll watch and see what happens.”

The shock of the hard prick of a knife against her baggy sweatshirt left Francey with no choice but to go along. "He can’t really mean to kill her?” she asked, stumbling slightly as she searched for a thread of nor­malcy beneath all this horror.

"Oh, can’t he just? And you’ll get to witness it, or you’ll get this be­tween your ribs, and trust me. I’ve done it often enough to know what I’m doing. I’ll make it deadly, and I’ll make it hurt.”

Francey didn’t doubt her for one moment. "Aren’t you going to try to warn him? He won’t get away with it.”

"It won’t matter. He’ll die gloriously, a worthy death for any Irishman, to die for the cause.”

"He’s your brother, for God’s sake! How can you watch him die?”

"He’s not my brother. Oh, he’s some sort of kin—all Dugans are re­lated to each other. He’s my lover, and has been since I was thirteen.” Caitlin pushed her face against Francey, and there was a look of pure hatred on her pale, Celtic face. "It was my plan to have him seduce you and get all your wonderful American money. He was going to come to me afterward and tell me all the details.”

Francey didn’t move. "I don’t believe you.”

"Believe me. He’s not your distant cousin, darlin’. He’s not some charming Irish expatriate. He needs your money, he needs your protec­tion, and he doesn’t give a damn about the spawn of Sean Neeley and the rich American bitch he married. Screwing you was the frosting on the cake.”

They were huddled against a building on First Avenue, across from the UN, across from the demonstration. The motorcade that was pulling up could signal only one thing, and the sudden increase in activity from the crowd, the television crews, and the security people was ominous.

"There he goes,” Caitlin breathed, and if she hadn’t said anything Francey would never have seen him. It happened so quickly. She could just make out Patrick, the lithe, strong body she’d ached for, blending in with the scaffolding on one of the light platforms. But no one else was looking in his direction, not even Caitlin, momentarily distracted by her anticipation. Everyone else was concentrating on the Queen’s arrival.

It was Francey’s only chance, and she took it without stopping to think. She shoved hard, knocking Caitlin off balance. The knife went skittering away on the sidewalk, and Caitlin’s slender body went tum­bling in front of a slow-moving limousine. But not slowly enough.

"Watch out!” Francey screamed, not sure who she was warning, Patrick or the security people, Caitlin or the driver of the limousine.

It didn’t matter. Her call signaled the onset of a bloodbath. Patrick be­gan spraying the crowded plaza with bullets, a look of monstrous delight on the face she’d thought she loved. He was so intent he didn’t notice another figure climbing a scaffold near him until it was almost too late. Something must have alerted him, for he turned the gun in time to mow down the man who’d almost reached him. But not quite soon enough. As the man lay writhing on the scaffold, his hand moved, and Patrick went plummeting off his own platform, into the crowd below. As he fell, Francey could see the blood spurting from the hole in the middle of his forehead, in his beautiful, soulless face.

She started screaming then, the sound swallowed up by the hysteria around her. She simply sank onto the sidewalk, wrapped her arms around her legs and continued to scream until her voice dried up, her mind shrank, and everything went mercifully blank.


 

 

Chapter 1

FRANCEY LET her long toes wriggle into the hot white sand. They were her one beauty, she thought dispassionately. How many people could say they had beautiful toes? And considering that she’d lived most of her life in chilly northern climates, few people had had the chance to appreciate the one gift nature had given her.

Here on the tiny island of St. Anne in the blue Caribbean she sel­dom wore shoes at all, and when she had to, she made to do with leather thongs. Still, no strange men were falling all over her, rhapsodizing about her toes. Which was just as well. She wasn’t going to be ready to have any men falling all over her for quite a while. If ever.

She’d been lucky so far. In the time she’d been staying in her cousin’s secluded villa, he’d sent very few people to intrude on her heal­ing process. A couple of elderly women who’d just lost their hus­bands, a college student breaking away from drugs and an unhealthy relationship, a middle-aged woman facing cancer with remarkable cour­age. All broken birds, traveling to the peace and serenity of Daniel Travers’s rambling colonial cottage. All of them eventually left, their healing processes begun. All but Francey, who stayed behind, walking alone in the sand, waiting for her own healing to start.

But today her luck had run out. Arriving on the evening flight from Boston was the first man Daniel had inflicted on her, and there was nothing Francey could do but accept with as much grace as she could muster. After all, she had no place else to go. At least, no place that she could face. The whitewashed walls of the villa, the wide boundaries of Daniel’s land and private beaches were all the world she cared to deal with. And if she had to share that world with another one of Daniel’s charity cases, then share it she would.

It wasn’t as if she weren’t a charity case herself. Not financially, of course. Her personal fortune, while not in the league of Daniel Travers’s, was respectable enough to keep her from having to worry. But emotionally she was as dependent as lost child, and Daniel knew that.

Besides, the new arrival wasn’t likely to make many demands. Michael Dowd was a semi-invalid from somewhere in the south of England, a man who was recovering from a near fatal auto crash. The hospi­tals had done the bulk of the work over the past few months. Now he just needed sunshine and rest, something the villa could easily provide. It was named Belle Reste for just that reason, and Francey could no more resent the intrusion than she could welcome it.

She would have to leave for the plane soon enough, using the ab­surd, pink-awninged Jeep Daniel had provided, but until then she was going to treasure the last moments of her solitude.

Maybe she should have pushed it. Maybe she should have forced her­self to face the debacle her life had become, forced herself to deal with it. She’d been coasting on a mindless, dreamless breeze, the dark shadows left behind in New York. She’d thought there was no hurry, but Michael Dowd was about to prove otherwise. The presence of any man was going to force her to deal with things she would rather keep ignor­ing.

She could always abandon him to his own defenses, rent a house of her own. The tourist season hadn’t geared up yet, and she’d made a few connections during her infrequent visits to town. Something would turn up.

But she couldn’t do that to her cousin Daniel or the ailing Michael. Providing a haven for emotionally destitute souls was one of Daniel’s many charitable activities, and Francey had taken full advantage of it. The least she could do would be to provide the kind of healing environ­ment she’d been enjoying. She didn’t know whether Michael Dowd could stay alone, but she suspected he needed someone keeping an eye on him at the very least, even if he didn't need actual nursing. At least, she hoped he didn't. She hated blood.

The villa was big enough that he wouldn’t have to get in her way, and he was hardly likely to be making a pass at her in his current condi­tion.

She threw back her head and laughed, squinting up into the bright sunlight. Who the hell did she think she was? In the best of times, with the healthiest of males around, she was hardly irresistible. Even the forced proximity of Belle Reste wasn’t likely to turn an invalid into a ravening beast desperate for sex.

Maybe she'd been alone too long. Maybe she needed to get used to the company of men again. Someone weak and harmless would be a perfect start. He would probably be querulous—most sick men were—and no threat at all. She could cosset him with custards and fresh fruit, and outwalk or outrun or outswim him if he grew to be too much of a pain. He would probably talk about his girlfriend or his ex-wife or both, and he’d probably whine. All in all, there was absolutely nothing to worry about, she told herself.

Nevertheless, she was going to savor every last minute of her soli­tude. She was going to drink in the hot sun, the cooling breezes, the rich scent of the ocean and the tropical growth around the villa. She was going to sit and drink fruit drinks and think about absolutely nothing at all until she had to face the mountainous drive to the airport. And from the moment she picked up her unwelcome house-guest, she was going to be the perfect hostess.

But for now she was simply going to vegetate in the bright, glorious sunlight and hope the sun would bake more of the pain away.

"I DON’T WANT her hurt.” Daniel Travers was a man in his prime— just under sixty, with a bull-like body, a high complexion, bright blue eyes, and a deceptively hearty demeanor. He was a great deal more astute, and more dangerous, than most people credited him with being, and that was part of his great value.

Michael Dowd wasn’t under any illusions, however. He knew just how far Daniel Travers was capable of going, and he knew enough not to antagonize him more than he needed to. Goad him far enough but not too far, and you got the best results.

"I’m not planning on hurting her,” Michael said, leaning back against the soft leather seat of the Rolls. There was one thing to be said for Travers—he knew how to live well. At least this current assignment involved Rolls-Royces and a villa in the Caribbean. Better than a hovel in Northern Ireland anytime. "I just want to find out what she knows.”

"She’s gone through extensive debriefing...”

"You know that’s not worth a damn if it’s not done right. She was in shock, all her defenses in place, not knowing whom to trust. Now she’s had a long time to recuperate, with no one bothering her, no one asking unpleasant questions. She’s had a nice, peaceful vacation, and she should be just about ready to open up to someone who knows how to ask the right questions in the right way. Particularly someone as harmless as I am.”

Travers’s bright blue eyes slid over to him, doubtful, and Michael al­most laughed. In his current condition he was no threat to anyone at all. He was pale, skinny, and he couldn’t walk without the aid of a cane. At least it was better than the wheelchair he’d been inhabiting for longer than he cared to remember. But it was going to be weeks before he was back at full strength, maybe longer, before that wary expression in Travers’s eyes would be justified.

Travers shook his head. "I don’t think you’d be harmless if you were in a coma,” he said. "That’s why I’m warning you. Don’t hurt her any more than she has been already. Find out what you need to know, and then I’ll get you out of there. I have a dozen places at my disposal if you want to finish your recuperation.”

"I’ve finished my recuperation,” he said savagely, hating his weak­ened state. "I’ve just about gone off my nut these past few weeks. There’s no end to the things I can accomplish, even while I’m still so knocked up. As soon as your cousin tells me about her friends, I can move on to another job, and no one will ever bother her again. I’m not that interested in pumping a lovesick female for information, but I’m sick of sitting on my butt watching other people ball up things I’ve been working on for years.”

"That’s between you and Ross Cardiff,” Travers said stiffly. "I wouldn’t presume to give you advice.”

"The hell you wouldn’t,” Michael said with a ghost of a smile. "Partic­ularly when it comes to your precious cousin. Don’t worry, old man. She’ll be safe as houses with me.”

"Considering your expertise in explosives, that’s hardly a sterling rec­ommendation,” Travers said. "Just remember, you may be a danger­ous young man, but I can be a dangerous old man, when me and mine are threatened. I’m letting you go to Belle Reste because I want this settled once and for all. Tread carefully.”

"I can’t do much else, now can I?” Michael countered, lifting his metal cane in a negligent gesture. "Don’t worry,” he said again. "When I leave St. Anne, your cousin won’t even know her brain’s been picked clean.”

"For your sake, you’d best hope so,” Travers grumbled as the Rolls pulled up beside a small private jet.

Michael didn’t bother to answer. Private citizens like Daniel Travers were one of the few things that made his job easier. He didn’t know what motivated the man—patriotism, civic duty, or sheer boredom—and he didn’t particularly care. All that mattered was that Travers put his con­sider­able resources at the disposal of certain select branches of the secret service organizations of various countries, Travers’s own and Great Britain among them. All the man asked for in return was a vicari­ous taste of the excitement and the knowledge that he’d struck a blow for democracy or whatever he was after.

Michael suspected he was deeply disappointed by the recent easing of relations with Eastern Europe. Travers still managed to cheer himself up with thoughts of Middle Eastern terrorists and the subversive branches of the IRA, but even South Africa seemed to be mellowing. If things continued as they were, Daniel Travers would be out of a hobby and Michael would be out of a job.

He doubted it would happen, though. He didn’t trust any of it. Not the lessening of repression in Eastern Europe, not the free elections in Latin America, not the hopeful steps in South Africa. Thirty-seven years of life on the edge had made him an extremely cynical man, and a few examples of media manipulation and feel-good public relations weren’t going to convince him that the intrinsic nature of the world had changed from bad to good. As long as there were people left alive, he and others like him would be needed. And the nastier, more unpleasant the job, the more often he would be the one to be called.

He hadn’t been exaggerating—the past few weeks had been holy hell. He’d been pretty well shot to pieces, and a body takes time to heal, particularly one that had gone through this sort of thing too many times. He didn’t like drugs, and his mind instinctively resisted painkillers, even when his body craved them. The pain had been the only thing that had kept him going when he’d first emerged from three weeks in intensive care. The pain, and the hatred.

Normally the idea of weeks in the sun, lying there doing nothing but swelter, would be his idea of hell, especially after such a long stretch of forced inactivity. But he wouldn’t be inactive. While he lay in the sun and tried to marshal his strength, his energy, he would be finding out exactly what Frances Neeley knew. And just how deeply she’d been involved.

Of course, he hadn’t confided those suspicions to Daniel. If the old man thought Michael suspected his young cousin of conspiracy he wouldn’t let him within a thousand miles of her. And Daniel could do just that, spirit her away on that ocean liner of a yacht he owned and head out into international waters where there’d be no reaching her.

So Michael had pretended to believe in the woman’s innocence, keep­ing his own opinion in reserve. Word on the street had been di­vided. Some said she'd been sleeping with Dugan, some that she was just another victim. He intended to find out the truth as soon as possible and then head back to England to clean up the mess Dugan had left behind. See if he could find out who’d been pulling the strings, giving the orders. Who headed up the brutal sect of the IRA known only as the Cadre. With Frances Neeley’s information in hand, there was no way they could keep him on the sidelines, much as Ross Cardiff wanted to.

He was going to the Caribbean with a very simple goal in mind. To get stronger. And smarter. And meaner, even though he knew that most people simply wouldn’t consider that possible.

He wondered if he was going to have to sleep with Daniel Travers’s plain, pale cousin to get what he wanted from her. And he wondered if he was going to have to kill her.

FRANCEY HAD never liked the way the pink Jeep handled. It tended to pull to the left, particularly when she was enthusiastic with the brakes, and she had grown a little too accustomed to power brakes, power steer­ing, power windows and the like. The old Jeep was not much of an improvement over a push-pull railway cart, and she’d been half tempted to rent a more reasonable car to get around the mountainous little island.

Two things stopped her. One, she didn’t go out often enough to make the hassle worthwhile. Daniel had regular deliveries of food and staples arranged, and just about every need was taken care of by a silent army of workers who came and went with smiling faces and impen­etra­ble French.

The second reason was less practical but far more devastating. She simply didn’t want to drive on the left-hand side of the road. She had too many memories of Patrick teasing her about her future, trying to drive on the left-hand side of the road when they went back to Ireland. She had too many memories of Patrick.

One of those almost invisible workers had just checked over the Jeep that morning, so at least she could reassure herself that the silly vehicle was marginally safe. The gas tank had been topped off, the bright pink paint was newly waxed, the awning clean, the vehicle swept clean of sand. She could only assume that whoever had checked the car was equally well versed in its underpinnings. The only sign that marred the spotless paint was a greasy thumbprint on the hood, proof that someone had known enough to at least check the engine.

One of the great blessings of Belle Reste was its remoteness from the rest of the small, busy island. One of its greatest disadvantages was its distance from the tiny airport, most of it over hilly, twisty roads. People also tended to fly in during the evening hours, making the trip even more hair-raising, but Francey navigated the narrow roads with her usual aplomb. She liked driving. And she hadn’t yet gotten to the point where it mattered terribly if she lived or died.

Daniel’s private jet had already landed by the time she drove the stub­born little Jeep into the airport confines. She slammed the vehicle into park and jumped out, absently noticing that the brakes were a little spongier than usual. The moment she caught sight of the man making his way carefully down the flight ramp she held her breath, oddly star­tled.

Even in the electric light she could see that his color wasn’t good. He was deathly pale as he moved down the stairs, leaning heavily on the handrail and a cane, and his eyes seemed too big for his face. He was tall and as thin as a scarecrow, his rumpled white suit flapping around his long legs, and his face was narrow and lined with pain beneath a shock of incongruous auburn hair.

A thousand confusing emotions swept over her as she leaned against the mesh of the fence, watching him as he reached the tarmac and moved slowly forward. She didn’t quite know what she was feeling, whether it was déjà vu, the odd sense that this had all happened before, or something else. Some strange, psychic knowledge that the sick- looking man walking slowly across the empty runway was going to matter to her very much. Was going to make the difference between life and death. And that he might mean death.

She shook her head, forcing such morbid thoughts away, and the movement caught his eye. Across the deserted tarmac he looked at her, and while she knew that he wouldn’t be able to see that well across the artificially lit distance, she suddenly felt uneasy. As if she’d been caught spying.

Opening the wire gate, she started toward him, forcing a welcoming smile onto her stiff face. "You must be Michael Dowd,” she said when she reached him. "I’m Frances Neeley, better known as Francey.” And she held out her hand.

It took him a moment to laboriously shift the cane, then reach out his own thin hand. His grasp was weak, ominously so, and for a moment she forgot her own concerns in worry over him. "I’m Michael,” he agreed, and his voice was surprisingly warm, strong, and unnervingly British. During her brief time with Patrick Dugan she’d learned to think of British accents as those belonging to the enemy, compared to Patrick’s charming lilt. No, she wouldn’t think of that.

"How was your trip?” she asked, pushing away her instinctive doubts. "How are you feeling? The Jeep’s just over there—you won’t have far to walk. Unless you’d like me to see whether I could find a wheelchair.”

"No wheelchair,” he said flatly. "I’ve already spent too much time in them since the car accident. And I feel like hell.”

Querulous, Francey thought with a trace of satisfaction. A pale, weak, querulous man. A pain in the butt and nothing worse.

And then he looked down at her and smiled, and the charm he was ex­erting was a palpable thing, something she could no more resist than she could stop her heart from beating. "I’m a pain in the butt, aren’t I?” he said, reading her mind. "I promise you I won’t spend my time here whining. I’m just done in from the travel.”

She found herself smiling back, up into eyes that were very, very blue. "That’s all right,” she said soothingly, falling into her natural role of caretaker. "We’ll get you home to Belle Reste and get you settled. By tomorrow you’ll be able to lie out in the sun and feel a lot better.”

"If you say so.” His expression was wry. "Lead the way to the Jeep. I’m assuming that pink monstrosity is yours.”

"Daniel’s, not mine. Where’s your luggage?”

"Lost,” he said succinctly. "The airline people said they’ve managed to track it down, and someone will be bringing it over in the morning. In the meantime, I can borrow something of Daniel’s can’t I?”

"Of course.” She held out her arm, to give him some extra strength to lean on, and for a moment he simply looked at her, his eyes distant and unreadable.

"Thanks,” he said finally, taking it and leaning heavily. "I need all the help I can get.”

It was a slow process to reach the Jeep. By the time she got him set­tled she was breathing heavily herself, and she glanced over at him as he lay back in the seat, his eyes closed, his color pale, his chest rising and falling beneath the too-big suit. "Are you sure you’re all right? We don’t have much in the way of hospital facilities here on the island, but they might be able to help—”

"I’ll be fine,” he said without opening his eyes, and his voice sound­ed slightly fainter.

Whatever doubts she’d had about him vanished the moment she real­ized how very sick he was. She’d been able to be a remote, gracious hostess to the other lost souls Daniel had sent her. Michael Dowd was another prospect altogether. For the first time in months she found someone whose needs superseded her own. Someone to concentrate on, ignoring her own helpless pain. From the moment she’d felt his weak clasp and looked into his pain-lined face, she’d known he wasn’t really a threat at all. He was simply a sick man, someone she wanted to help.

She drove with uncharacteristic sedateness through the narrow streets of the town, then headed up into the hills toward Belle Reste with only a decorous increase in speed. Driving was one thing she really en­joyed, and during the past few months of penance and mourning she’d been denying herself that pleasure. Now, suddenly, she felt like stretch­ing her wings, but she knew that with an invalid beside her she had to be as demure as an old lady. Maybe tomorrow she would see about renting a car after all. A small sporty convertible, something with a little power beneath the hood. Her new houseguest would probably enjoy going for drives once his strength increased a bit.

The road to Belle Reste was a series of three hills and three valleys, with the villa lying at the end of the final valley on a spit of land jutting out into the warm Caribbean. With Francey keeping a sedate pace and a companionable silence as her passenger rested, they made it through the first hill and valley, up the next hill, and were heading downward again when the car began gathering momentum.

Francey pushed her sandaled foot down on the brake, but instead of slowing down the Jeep seemed to move even faster, and she glanced down, wondering if by some odd chance she was pressing the accelera­tor instead.

The brake was all the way to the floor. Pumping was utterly use­less— the speedometer was climbing past its well-bred thirty-five to something beyond fifty. Suicide, on roads like these.

Don’t panic, she told herself, still pumping the useless brake pedal. Keep steering and try to downshift.

The gears ground noisily as she tried to push the stick shift into third, and the speedometer climbed to fifty-five. Her passenger turned his face toward her, opened his sleepy eyes and said in a tone of com­plete unconcern, "Brakes failed?”

She couldn’t help it—his mundane tone made her want to laugh. "It seems so.”

"You’ve tried pumping them, and you’ve tried shifting down,” he ob­served casually. "What about the emergency brake?”

"It never worked.” She allowed herself a quick glance over at him. She would have expected him to look even worse, paler, now that death stared them in the face. Instead his color had improved, and his eyes had something that in another man, another situation might almost be called a sparkle.

"Then you’re simply going to have to drive like hell,” he said. "Or we’re going to die.”

The speedometer had reached sixty. They were only halfway down the hill, and coming up was a series of S-curves worthy of the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. "Maybe in a Ferrari,” she muttered, "with decent tires. We have maybe a snowball’s chance in hell of making it.”

Michael Dowd laughed. "Well then, Francey, it’s been nice knowing you.”

"Nice knowing you, Michael,” she muttered, concentrating on the steering. The speedometer was edging toward seventy, the S-curves were approaching, and Francey Neeley didn’t want to die. Patrick Dugan was dead, cut down in a hail of bullets, and she didn’t want to run the risk of ever seeing him again, even in some nebulous afterlife.

She took one last glimpse at her passenger before they headed into the curves. At least he didn’t seem to mind dying. That should have made two of them, but she realized she didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to take the easy way out, the coward’s way out. There was too much left to do, to accomplish.

"For heaven’s sake put your seat belt on!” she shrieked at her passen­ger, just noticing he hadn’t bothered to fasten himself in.

"Will it make a difference?”

"Humor me. We just might make it. If we get through the next sec­tion there’s a stretch of rocky beach. I might be able to steer this thing into the water.”

"I don’t fancy drowning any more than I do crashing.”

"Shut up and let me drive.”

She almost made it. Not by slowing down, something that was be­yond the Jeep’s capabilities, but by speeding up just at the curve of each turn. She was cursing beneath her breath, a steady litany that had to take the place of the prayers she’d forsaken months ago, and by the time they entered the final S-curve she knew she was going to make it. The curve was ending, the beach was up ahead, all she had to do was steer across the stretch of rocky beach—She hadn’t counted on the moped with the teenager on board, driving too fast and blithely ignoring her oncoming Jeep. She stared in horror at the accident about to happen, momentarily paralyzed, and then Michael reached over and yanked the wheel sharply.

They went sailing past the teenager, past the stone abutment, past the rocky beach. Gripping the steering wheel, Francey closed her eyes and prepared to die.


 

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