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From somewhere above her in the otherwise silent parking garage, its whisper-soft engine made barely a sound. She paid little attention.
At well after five o'clock on a typically hot and muggy summer day in D.C., it was just a car winding its way down the ramp toward the Washington street, its driver eager, as she was, to get home.
Her arms aching from the burden she carried, Casey hurried toward her compact sedan. The sound of her heels echoing on the concrete floor in the almost-deserted garage caused her heart to pound for no reason. Clearly, she'd watched too many movies. Psycho had given her an innate fear of the shower curtain being ripped back, a knife flashing in an assailant's hand, and now, the vague sense of uneasiness when walking through a barren garage to her car. Like the film, her fear was unfounded. Silly, to imagine herself as someone being hunted, the innocent prey of a crazed killer.
A half-remembered face flashed through her mind. In the elevator earlier, she'd seen a man who had looked familiar, yet she couldn't place him. Casey had felt uneasy ever since.
Nothing new. Her usual distrust of other people could be bad news or good, depending on the circumstance. From the age offive she'd learned to be self-sufficient to the core. That was the good.
The bad? With her divorce just final, at thirty she was on her own again. Alone.
In the silent garage, that very isolation seemed even worse to her than her recent break from Graham. She didn't need to be surrounded by people, Casey told herself. People she could never quite trust.
For instance, Graham. And - the thought surprised her - the stranger in the elevator who, having caught a passing glimpse of Casey had found her familiar, too. Forget it. Forget them both.
Casey frowned and shifted the box in her arms. Bringing the small carton of Graham's belongings to his office had been something she'd been dreading. He always worked late, and she'd braced herself for a face-to-face encounter. But luck was on her side. She hadn't gained admittance at Hearthline Security once she got there, and she'd seized that excuse to run from the newest government agency.
She didn't really want to see him.
Couldn't risk her heart this soon.
So why had she come in the first place?
Obviously, it was like worrying a sore tooth. Instead, she should have mailed his stuff. Certainly Graham, ever the unflappable civil servant workhorse, would have done that in her place. Just as he'd coolly written The End to their marriage. What had happened to them?
Yet despite her own misgivings, she had come, and the nonevent seemed so ... final. Too bad she still had the box and all her memories of Graham, with his thick, dark hair, his devil's dark eyes and that quick slash of a grin that always surprised her. Like the way his slightest touch could heat her blood. As if it ever would again.
On level three of the garage Casey turned the corner and spied her car at the end of the row, in the farthest spot from the elevator.
All she heard now was the approaching growl of a big, well-tuned engine.
In that instant the air seemed to fill with sound. The throaty purr of an expensive motor and the shush of tires on pavement reverberated through the quiet parking garage when a long sedan squealed down the ramp, around the curve from the upper level, and screamed onto the third floor.
Inches from Casey's heels.
Too close. Too close.
In her peripheral vision, she barely saw it coming. Frozen in shock, Casey felt the big automobile graze her body. Disbelieving at first, she tried to twist aside, but there was no room, nowhere to go except the wall.
The car bumped hard against her side. She bounced off the rear door, spun into the right front fender, then the force of impact lifted her off her feet and she slammed against the hood. For a second her head hit metal. Hard.
Then Casey was thrown back onto the concrete floor.
The car sped away, tires shrieking.
Casey saw a quick blaze of stars.
I'm dead, was her last thought. I'm dead.
Then everything went dark.
Total darkness obliterated Graham Warren's senses. Disoriented, he felt his heartbeat kick into overdrive. The acrid scent of burning ash invaded his nostrils, and in the smoky haze he struggled not to cough, even to breathe hard. Any sound might be his last.
Just like Casey - almost - a few weeks ago.
Pushing his way forward into the bombed-out building, he kept his grip tight around his Uzi. His 9-millimeter Glock, tucked into the back of his waistband, would be his backup. Lose that, and he lost himself. His life.
In the blackness he crept forward, keeping his partner behind him. An advance team had already scouted the old apartment building on the fringes of D.C.
Any nagging fears he felt for Casey would have to wait. He had a job to do.
Complete the mission.
Deliver the remnants of the terrorist cell to the proper federal authorities -
His new partner's voice at his rear stopped Graham.
"What?" He whipped his head around to mouth the word. They weren't supposed to communicate, except in hand gestures. Jackie Miles knew that.
"To the right."
Wishing again that his former partner hadn't been sent to Afghanistan on another assignment, Graham looked in the direction Jackie had indicated and saw a room that had been blasted by the fire into near oblivion. Still, the walls remained.
So did the enemy.
A sudden burst of ammunition nearly shattered Graham's eardrums. They were receiving fire! A shot whistled past his temple, and in a fury Graham pulled his trigger.
Seconds later, the hail of bullets had ended. Their Uzis still ready, his heart still pounding, Graham and his partner edged toward the room where the terrorists had hidden.
Graham steadied his aim.
"Freeze. Put your guns down. Hands in the air. Don't get heroic."
Excerpted from Agent-In-Charge by Leigh Riker Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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