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4:00 a.m., August 2 7 hours since the blackout began
It was going to be a long night.
Chase Vickers should have been accustomed to waiting. In his line of work he did enough of it. But he'd never developed much in the way of patience. He liked to move. More to the point, he liked speed. Lots of it. Tonight, however, parked in the looming shadow of Boston's Hancock Tower with the city in the midst of a blackout, he passed the minutes pacing as he waited for his passenger. Curbside, the sleek limo he drove part-time—and affectionately called Irma—purred like a big black cat.
Around him, plunged into darkness, the usually unflappable city of Boston was in a state of panic. Even at this hour the tower bustled with city police, Secret Service personnel and the occasional frightened civilian dressed to the nines. From the look of things, something big had gone down inside.
Chase had received the call for a client pickup just before 9:00 p.m. He was supposed to drive a foreign dignitary from Hancock Tower to Logan Airport. A simple enough assignment under most circumstances, anyway. Until the blackout hit en route. Traffic had crashed to a halt, and for the next three hours he'd maneuvered the big limo through spaces more suited to a Volkswagen. He'd dealt with an army of frightened motorists and angry cabbies, and dodged dozens of accidents caused by inoperative traffic lights.
Chase was comfortable in the dark and chaos. When he wasn't driving dignitaries and high ranking government officials to various destinations—most requiring a driver with a high-security clearance—he spent his days on mercenary missions forEclipse, a secret organization he and three other of his Special Forces buddies had formed years ago. For a price, the band of brothers took on assignments the CIA, FBI and other elite military forces couldn't get done. The kinds of covert operations that never made the newspapers.
Lately, those missions were the only time Chase felt truly alive.
He stood at the rear of the limo, taking in the chaos, wondering about its source. This was more than just a blackout situation. The arrival of additional Secret Service told him something significant had transpired. Was it related to the black-tie affair atop the tower? He'd read about the event. Something to do with a trade agreement…
Pulling out his cell phone, he was about to make some calls to see if he could get some answers when a chirp alerted him to an incoming text message. He hit Receive and watched the words scroll across the display.
Are you afraid of the dark?
The jagged scar above his left eye throbbed as the meaning of the words registered. Four years in the Special Forces and numerous missions for Eclipse had taught him to take every threat seriously, regardless of its source or how vague. The truth of the matter was, he'd made some enemies over the years. He'd ticked off some very dangerous people who would probably like nothing more than to pay him back in spades.
Chase knew whom to call. As much as Chase didn't want to turn to his older brother—half brother, he corrected with a sneer—Shane Peters did seem to have his finger on the pulse. He punched in Shane's number from memory. Five rings and his call went to voice mail. Another oddity—his half brother almost always answered his phone. What the hell was going on?
"Hey, it's Vic," he said, using the nickname known exclusively by his Special Forces and Eclipse counterparts. "Call me."
He was about to get back in the limo when a thin young man with dark hair exited the tower and approached. The tuxedo told Chase the man was part of the black-tie affair. More than likely the dignitary he'd been hired to drive to Logan Airport.
He studied the man's face; a flash of familiarity gave him pause. Something about the eyes. But as the man drew closer Chase decided he was mistaken. He had a near photographic memory; he would have recalled meeting this man. His green eyes and black hair made his face a memorable one. But Chase knew both could be easily altered.
He put on a smile and started toward his passenger. "Hell of a night for a blackout."
"It's a madhouse in there." The man glanced at the limo with the admiration of a man who appreciated fine machinery. "You must be Chase Vickers."
"The one and only." Because he would require his passenger to do the same, Chase pulled out his wallet and flashed his ID and security badge.
The man fumbled with his own wallet. "I'm Sam Michaels."
The name confirmed this man was, indeed, his assigned passenger, but Chase looked carefully at the driver's license and accompanying photo ID anyway, putting both to memory. Samuel Michaels. Washington, D.C. Personal aide to the ambassador of South Africa. DOB 06-06-1981.
Confident everything was in order, Chase walked to the passenger door and opened it, ushering his client inside. "Logan Airport?"
The man smiled wryly as he climbed into the limo's plush backseat. "Not that any of the airlines are operational in this blackout."
"Where you headed?"
"London. Sometime tomorrow, if I'm lucky."
"Hopefully, the power outage won't last much longer."
"Any idea what happened?"
Chase shook his head. "Most of the radio stations were knocked off the air, but some are bound to have backup generators that are up and running by now. I'll see if I can pick up a newscast."
Closing the door, he crossed in front of the vehicle and slid behind the wheel. Getting to the airport was going to be a challenge.
Chase wasn't overly concerned. A speed freak and racing enthusiast, he'd never met a road or highway he couldn't traverse no matter what the conditions.
He pulled onto the street, squeezing Irma between a city bus and a taxicab with inches to spare. The move elicited the simultaneous blare of a dozen horns but, like most professional drivers, he didn't pay them any heed.
A second glance in the mirror told him Samuel Michaels was not a nervous passenger. Probably a good thing since getting him to Logan was going to take nothing less than a miracle.
"There's a bar in the forward cabinet," Chase said. "Help yourself."
Sam Michaels smiled. "Looks like I might need a nip or two by the time we get there."
"Hang on. Bump ahead." Chase took the limo onto the curb to get around a BMW that had played chicken with a Ford pickup and lost.
He was so focused on maneuvering through the jumble of cars that for several minutes Chase did nothing but drive. Traffic eased marginally when he turned onto Interstate 93. Deciding to avoid the Ted Williams Tunnel for fear of an immovable traffic jam, he headed north toward the financial district.
When he finally took a second to look in his rear view mirror to check on his passenger, he found himself staring into the barrel of a sleek Ruger Mark III .22 pistol replete with a magazine release and front and rear sights. A killer's gun.
"What the hell are you doing?" Chase said with outer calm as his gaze met his passenger's. "Repaying a debt."
"What debt?" Adrenaline punched him like a fist, but he kept his eyes and voice level. "Who the hell are you?"
"It doesn't matter who I am, Vic. I know who you are. That's the important thing."
The only people who called him that were his teammates from Special Forces, three of whom comprised Eclipse. Once again his mind scrolled through possible enemies he'd made over the years, but he couldn't recall any escapees or recently released inmates.
"What do you want?" Chase asked.
The man leaned forward. "You're about to find out what it feels like to lose everything that matters to you."
"What are you talking about?"
The man's smile chilled him.
Chase knew it was crazy, but Lily came to mind. He hadn't seen her for almost eight months, but the time apart hadn't dulled his feelings for her. Lily Garrett was the only thing in this world that truly mattered to him. Had this man somehow found out that he'd once been involved with her? Was he going to hurt Lily to get back at Chase for some perceived wrong?
Knowing this wasn't going to end nicely, Chase swung the steering wheel hard to the right. He caught a glimpse of his passenger trying to hold on while sliding sideways on the backseat. The gun came up. "Stop or I'll blow your head off!"
Steel screamed against steel when the limo careened into a parked delivery van. The man's temple snapped hard against the side window. Strapped in securely with his safety belt, Chase jammed the limo into Reverse and hit the gas. He saw a flash of blue steel in the mirror and jerked the wheel hard to the left. The passenger slid to the opposite side. Chase slammed on the brake and the man's head struck the partially open Plexiglas divider separating the passenger compartment from the cab.
Ramming the limo into Park, Chase unbuckled his seat belt, spun and jammed his torso through the small opening. He reached for Michaels and snagged the collar of his tux. Cursing, the man scrambled back, grappling for his weapon. He tried to get off a shot, but Chase shoved his arm and the bullet went wide, blowing a hole the size of his thumb through the roof.
"Now that wasn't very nice," Chase growled through clenched teeth.
"Maybe I want you to be alive when we kill her," the man snarled.
The man had to be referring to Lily. Panic gripped Chase. Was this thug planning to use her to get to him? The thought of some goon hurting her in the name of revenge made him break a cold sweat.
Too late, he saw the gun come up. He reached for the muzzle to deflect it, but because of his awkward position, he wasn't fast enough. A second gunshot rent the night. The bullet struck his arm like a five-hundred-degree baseball bat slamming a home run. But he didn't have time to feel the high-voltage shock of pain. The son of a bitch was already lining up for another shot.
Pulling away, Chase shoved the gearshift into Drive and floored the accelerator. The limo jumped forward like a big predator. The engine roared, the RPMs redlining. Chase cut the wheel. The front quarter panel clipped a streetlight. The limo spun. Chase saw the man slide across the backseat and crash into the door. Jamming the limo into Reverse, he hit the gas. The vehicle shot backward like a racehorse out of the gate and slammed into a parked car hard enough to whip his skull against the headrest.
Knowing this was probably his last chance to gain control of the situation, he reached for his own weapon beneath his seat and swung open the door. By the time he was out and had yanked open the passenger door, Michaels had slipped out the opposite side.
"Halt!" Assuming a shooter's stance, Chase took aim over the limo's roof and fired off three shots. But the man moved too fast, darting around cars and through the crowd. Within seconds, darkness swallowed him.
Chase stood trembling, wondering what the hell had just happened. The pain in his arm snapped him back to the situation at hand. He glanced down, saw blood soaking his sleeve.
"Damn," he muttered. "Ruined my best shirt." But his mind churned with the threats the man had made.
I want you to be alive when we kill her.
The words echoed in his head like some terrible mantra. He hadn't mentioned a name, but Chase knew the bastard was talking about Lily.
Jerking open the door, he slid behind the wheel. The engine had died. He turned the key and pumped the gas, but the motor only wheezed like a sick cow. Frustrated and more scared than he'd been in a very long time, he rapped his palm hard against the wheel.
"You picked a hell of a time to let me down, Irma." Chase threw open the door. Ignoring the blare of horns and throngs of stranded motorists, he broke into a dead run toward the only woman he'd ever loved.