“Richard! Slow down!”
Heart pounding, Eve took her gaze from the road and cut a glance to the driver, Richard, her business partner.
Richard didn’t respond. The CD player was blaring. Unlikely he could hear her above Van Halen’s scream.
Richard had picked up his new Porsche just yesterday. He’d wanted to see what the car could do, he’d said with a smirk when they started on this road, and hit the gas. Now the road began to slope and the car gained additional speed. Eve’s gaze went to the speedometer and her breath hitched. Ninety and climbing. Outside the passenger window, a view of trees and rock- face streaked by in a blur. Her mouth went dry.
Eve took her gaze from the road and cut a glance to Richard. His focus was trained on the rearview mirror.
It wasn’t the first time in the last few minutes she’d spotted him looking into the rearview. She looked around herself but couldn’t see anything but the trail of dust the Porsche was kicking up in its wake. As she faced front again, again, Richard’s focus lifted to the view behind them.
What was going on?
She reached out to lower the volume on the CD to ask him that question when the car swerved sharply to the right, throwing her toward the passenger door. The seatbelt held firm, preventing what could have been a nasty impact.
She returned her attention to Richard. Tension was now coming off him in waves. A fine sheen of sweat glistened on his brow. In his eyes, she saw terror.
Eve looked back. A dark sedan was now visible, moving fast and closing the distance between them.
“Richard, what’s going on? Are we being followed?”
Richard didn’t reply, but the Porsche shot forward with a sudden burst of speed. The sedan fell back but was picking up speed. It should have been no match for the Porsche but it continued to gain ground. Just what kind of engine was under the hood of that plain sedan? No ordinary sedan and Eve’s nerves jumped.
Why were they being followed? Who would want to follow them?
The Porsche skidded. Richard steered into the skid. When the tires gained traction, he floored the gas pedal.
This was insane. If Richard and whoever was following them didn’t slow down-
The road curved like a hair pin. Richard made a sound, but without breaking speed, drove into it. The rear fishtailed. Eve’s breath caught. Richard cried out. Both his face and his grip on the steering wheel went white as he struggled to get the car under control. Eve’s heart hammered. Each wild beat thundered in her ears.
She turned to him. He was now slumped across the dashboard.
The speedometer read one-hundred-ten. The car raced out of control. Gravel pinged against the car’s underside as the right front tire slid off the narrow strip of asphalt. The edge dropped off in a sheer cliff Eve couldn’t see the bottom of.
Another instant and the car would go over.
Eve stared wide -eyed as the car continued to lose purchase. As the tires continued to slide away from the pavement. Was this how her life would end? In a car crash that would not right the wrong committed five years earlier when she had lived while the most precious thing in her world had died?
Tears filled her eyes. She thought back over the last five years to all of the times she’d wished she could go back to that moment and exchange her life for the one that was taken.
But she couldn’t. She could not change the past. Not then and not now . . .
The tires slid. The cliff loomed. The dark abyss drew closer.
Eve grabbed the steering wheel. Her hands were sweating. She latched on and jerked sharply to the right. The car veered away from the edge.
She shoved Richard toward the driver’s door. He was a small, wiry man, but inert, his body was heavy. She grunted, heaved again, and he struck the driver’s door hard. His blond head lolled against the window. He didn’t protest her rough handling of him, not even a moan. Eve would have welcomed a moan. At the least he was unconscious. At the most . . .
She fought off her fears for Richard. If she didn’t stop the car, his condition would cease to matter – to both of them.
She grappled with her seat belt, releasing the catch, then slid onto the console and swung her leg over Richard’s. She kicked his foot off the accelerator and stomped on the brake. The tires screeched as the car skidded, then went into a spin. The landscape of trees and rock face swirled by, then Eve didn’t know if the car was again at the edge about to go over. She couldn’t determine up or down. She’d lost her bearings.
She maintained her grip on the steering wheel and on the brake, the skin stretched taut over her knuckles, her teeth gritted as she fought to ride out the spin and regain control of the car.
The Porsche rocked to a stop. She was flung forward. Her instinctive grab of the dashboard twisted her wrist but saved her face. Laying her head on her arms, she closed her eyes and gave in to the weakness that had come over her now that the initial adrenaline rush was spent. Her ears were ringing. The car engine was now off and in the silence she could hear herself breathing. Shallow, panting gasps for air that hurt to inhale and exhale. Other than those complaints, she felt fine. Alive.
Richard . . .
She turned to him and shook his shoulder. He didn’t respond. She pressed her fingertips to his neck. Her hands were shaking so badly she wasn’t sure she’d detect any other movement, but she felt a thready pulse.
She’d bought a bottle of water at the last gas station they’d stopped at. It was in the cup holder. She uncapped it and upended it onto Richard’s face. Water flowed down his shaved cheeks.
Eve tapped the back of her hand against his skin. “Richard.”
He didn’t respond. She struck him harder. His cheek reddened. She’d hit him hard enough to mark him, but apparently not enough to rouse him.
“Hang on, Richard,” she murmured.
She turned the key, but the engine didn’t start. Her purse . . . where was her purse? She spotted the little envelope bag on the floor board. She fumbled with the snap and yanked out her cell phone. She had to get help.
Where were they? She glanced around the deserted stretch of road. A meadow lay beyond the two lanes of asphalt. Trees and scraggly bushes grew on the grass, amid patches of white and yellow wildflowers. She and Richard had left Manhattan bound for Rowland, a county in Pennsylvania, about an hour ago. They were chemists and they were on their way to a chemist’s conference in Pittsburgh. Richard had kept to back roads like this one to avoid traffic. Other than the sedan that was no longer in sight, she couldn’t remember the last time they came across another car. None were in sight now. The sun was lowering behind a cluster of oaks. Nightfall was imminent. If this road was rarely traveled in daylight, what was the likelihood of another car coming along at night? With Richard in his present condition, they could not pass the night here. She pushed dark hair back from her face and flipped open the phone.
An instant later she found there was no signal. She hoped that was because she was inside the car. As she was about to go outside and try the phone again, the sedan that had been following them skidded to a halt behind the Porsche.
Both the driver and passenger doors were flung open. Two men charged out.
One man was dark-haired, the other blond. Both wore suits and ties.
Eve wanted to be away from there. She knew nothing about the occupants of that car other than that Richard had been terrified of him. But where to go? She was in the middle of nowhere. The car disabled. Her phone useless. She had no weapon to defend herself and Richard. She’d turned in her service weapon years ago along with her resignation from the LAPD.
To buy a moment to think, she reached out to engage the automatic door locks. Ineffective if these men were armed, but if not, the locked doors would keep them at bay.
Before she could hit the locks, both her door and Richard’s door were thrown open. The dark haired man peered at Richard. The blond man reached for her.
Eve drew back. “I don’t know who you are or what you want, but Richard needs help. He needs a doctor.”
The dark-haired man glanced over his shoulder at Eve. His eyes, dark brown and deep-set, narrowed to slits. He pressed his lips together, tight enough that a line formed on either side of his mouth. There was no mistaking his anger, though she could not account for it.
The blond man’s soft, doughy features were grim. Eve’s heart pounded. She looked from one man to the other. “Why are you just standing around?” She was afraid she knew, but blurted out anyway. “We need to get Richard to a doctor. Now.”
“Richard is dead,” the dark- haired man said bluntly.
As he stepped back from the open doorway, back from Richard, she glimpsed her business partner, slumped against the black leather seat. His eyes were glazed. There was no mistaking the vacant look in them now and the gray cast to his skin that indicated recent death.
Eve continued to stare at him. She shook her head, not wanting to believe what she was seeing.
At any moment she expected him to bounce up and burst into movement. But he did not.
Richard . . .
Tears burned her eyes. She pressed her fingers to them. Her hands trembled. She clenched them briefly in an effort to steady them. The need to know how Richard died weighed on her, along with a terrible sadness. She and Richard had been partners for four years and though that relationship had its ups and downs – was presently down – she felt a loss at his passing. Now was not the time for questions, though, or to mourn. She had to keep it together and see him home.
“Let’s get him into our car,” the dark- haired man said.
The men hooked Richard beneath the arms and legs, and removed him from his vehicle. They hauled him across the asphalt to their own car and stuffed him into the trunk. The act galvanized Eve. Richard was dead. Why had they moved him?
Eve left the Porsche and stumbled out onto the asphalt. She was still holding her phone and dropped it onto the pavement as she ran to the sedan.
She reached it and seized the lid just as the dark-haired man was about to slam it. “You can’t move Richard’s body. Drive back to the nearest city and send the police.” What was the name of the last place they drove through? She shook her head in frustration; she couldn’t recall it. She eyed the two men. “There’s a city about a forty minute drive east of here. Since you were on this road, you would have passed it as well. There’s bound to be a police station there.”
The man slammed the trunk and turned to his companion. “You’d better get going. I’ll be in touch.”
The men acted as if she hadn’t spoken. Eve reached out and seized the dark-haired man’s forearm. Beneath the conservative gray suit was hard muscle. Instead of digging into skin, her nails bent. She bit down hard on her back teeth “Did you hear what I said?”
He met her gaze. “Every word. I’m afraid, however, that we will be removing the body.”
She could see the promise in his eyes, and her anger spiked another notch. “Listen to me–”
“You know me?” She searched her memory, but could not recall ever meeting him. He obviously knew her though, and though he had yet to harm her, that fact unsettled her, reminded her that this man and his companion had been following Richard.
Who were these men? Eve’s stomach went as tight as a fist. Her body went cold with apprehension but she knew better than to show it. She crossed her arms and narrowed her gaze on the dark-haired man who appeared to be leading the other man. “I asked you a question.”
“We’ve never met. I’m John Burke.” Burke indicated the man beside him. “This is Michael Lanski. We work for a division of the Central Intelligence Agency.” Burke withdrew a small folder from inside his suit jacket and opened it for her inspection. It was his picture ID. He replaced it, then repeated to Lanski, “Get going.”
Lanski got behind the wheel of the sedan, and Eve’s heart thumped. “Where is he going?” she asked Burke. “Why were you following Richard? What does the CIA want with Richard’s body?”
“We’ll talk on the drive to Rowland,” Burke said. “Let’s go, Dr. Collins.”
Eve narrowed her eyes on Burke. “You know where Richard and I were going?”
Burke gave her a level look. “Oh, yeah. We know a lot of things about you and Richard.”
Eve arched her eyebrows at the cryptic statement. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Before Burke could respond–if he’d intended to–Eve’s attention was drawn by the sedan. Lanski spun the car in a U-turn then, tires squealing, sped down the road. Dust swirled in the air where the car had been an instant earlier, and Richard was gone.
Again, Eve felt tears burn. She forced them back and confronted Burke. “I asked you what the CIA wants with Richard’s body.”
“And I told you we would talk on the way to Rowland,” Burke said.
The sun had lowered and dusk had descended. In the interval between day and night, there was a stillness, a quiet time. In the silence, Eve became aware of the hum of the Porsche’s engine. She’d thought the car was disabled by the accident, but Burke or Lanski had started it. Obviously, Burke intended that they leave there in Richard’s vehicle.
Eve crossed her arms. “I’m not going anywhere with you, Mr. Burke.”
He braced his hands low on his hips. “Are you thinking to wait out here, hoping another car will come along?”
“Oh, no. I am leaving. You’re not. I’m taking the car. You should have gone with Lanski.” Eve’s cheeks warmed. “This isn’t over. If you won’t tell me what I want to know, I’ll get my answers from your office. I will get Richard’s body released. I will find out why the CIA even knows my name.”
Eve moved past him toward the car.
“You aren’t going anywhere without me.”
She glanced back at Burke. He hadn’t moved, but his eyes had hardened and she knew he meant what he said. He outweighed her by at least seventy pounds and topped her by a good eight inches. Did he intend to use physical force to detain her? On the job, she’d taken down men of his size before. Still, he would need a reason to insist that she accompany him; he was an officer of the law, after all, not a thug.
She raised an eyebrow. “If you want to stop me, you’re going to have to place me under arrest.”
Burke reached into a back pocket and held up a pair of handcuffs.
Eve’s lips tensed briefly. “You have to be out of your mind, Burke. I’m a chemist not a criminal.”
“You set the terms, Doctor. We are going to talk. If I have to arrest you to do that, I will.”
“This is ridiculous. You can’t arrest me without cause.”
“Oh, I have cause.” He leaned in close to her, and his voice lowered to a near whisper. “You’ve been named in a terrorist plot, Doctor. The charge for committing an offence against your country is treason.”