Blownby Francine Mathews
Former CIA analyst Francine Mathews has created “one of the toughest female secret agents we’ve seen in a long time.”* Using her firsthand expertise of international espionage, Mathews offers another brilliantly realized suspense novel so intense, so authentic, it lethally blurs the line between fact and fiction. In Blown, Caroline Carmichael returns in a white-hot tale of terror on the streets of Washington, where one woman must gamble her life to save her country.
As thousands of runners line up for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., no one suspects that in a matter of hours the event will become a race between life and death. CIA analyst Caroline Carmichael is about to tender her resignation, when the first reports of a terrorist attack pour in–and she instantly recognizes the hand of an enemy she’s battled for years: the 30 April Organization. The neo-Nazi group is alive and well and operating in the United States, assassinating top officials and abducting a vulnerable child from the front ranks of a state funeral. When Caroline’s husband, Eric, is arrested in Germany as a 30 April operative, Caroline has no choice but to take to the streets–and target the evil herself.
Eric has worked as a “legend” for years–a false identity so perfect, the CIA believes he’s dead–and gone deep undercover within the terrorist group Caroline is determined to destroy. Now his cover’s been blown, and Eric’s intimate knowledge of 30 April’s plans makes him a target for both sides: the killers he’s betrayed, and the American government he’s sworn to protect.
Torn between a desire to save her husband and her duty to save her country, Caroline is drawn back into a treacherous labyrinth where trusting others is as good as suicide. For the enemy this time wears a familiar face: that of an American patriot, waving his flag alongside his gun. To stem disaster, Caroline has only one choice: to betray everyone in which she believes–or everyone she loves.
For an agent without cover–an agent who’s blown–is worse than betrayed: she’s as good as dead.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Mathews makes it all impossible not to gasp at. She also makes [her heroine] Caroline Carmichael such a complicated and real person that we never doubt her existence for a moment."—Chicago Tribune
"Mathews hits the ground running, coming across like an interesting mix of Robert Ludlum and Thomas Harris.... Blown is an edge-of-your-seat summertime thriller."—The Denver Post
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Read an Excerpt
WASHINGTON, D.C., 6:02 A.M.
On the day she was chosen for death, Dana Enfield rose early and made coffee for her husband in the hushed November dawn. She had slept badly the previous night, pummeling her pillow while George looked in on three obligatory parties and made excuses for his wife. The people standing around in little clusters against the apricot-colored walls of Georgetown and Kalorama, drinks in their hands, had joked with the Speaker of the House about this morning, about the press buildup and the unseasonably warm weather and where exactly he intended to stand. They had wished her luck, Dana thought as she listened to the drip of the coffee and the creak of old floorboards somewhere near Mallory’s bedroom that might or might not mean that George was already awake—wished her luck and a great photo op, with the mental kickback inevitable among politicians. Half of them probably had money riding on the chance she’d never finish her race.
She sniffed the aroma of fresh coffee as she poured it into George’s mug, knowing she couldn’t take the caffeine’s dehydration this early in the day but craving it all the same. Then— almost as an afterthought—she reached for the sharp metal rod she kept on the counter and slit the fleshy pad of her forefinger. A bead of blood ballooned at her fingertip. She waited for the digital count to flash on the screen of the insulin monitor: within normal range.
Comforting, she thought, to be offered that assurance at the start of every new day. She lifted George’s mug to her lips and permitted herself a single sip.
The Marine Corps Marathon is fortunate in possessing a remarkable contingent of navy and civilian volunteers. Navy active duty and reserve units as well as dedicated doctors, athletic advisors, and Red Cross members from all over the country come together to ensure that our race is one of the safest in the nation. . . .
Daniel Becker had scrolled through the official marathon Web site at least twenty times in the past few weeks, committing what was essential to memory. The Marines who organized the event each year called it “The People’s Race,” because nobody was forced to qualify to enter. It was planned and executed with the efficiency of a military operation; hundreds of Marines in field dress lined the race course, handing off cups of water and bananas and protein bars at two-mile intervals. They played music, clapped, cheered on their buddies, and were extraordinarily courteous to the less athletic hordes who invaded the event in increasing numbers. So many weekend warriors had entered the lists over the years, in fact, that it was impossible to accept them all. A lottery system capped the field at fifteen thousand runners.
When Daniel closed his eyes at night, he could see the course imprinted on his brain like a snake formed from fire. Between seventy and a hundred thousand people would line the 26.2-mile race as it wound from the Iwo Jima Memorial—the pride of Marine Corps history—straight through Crystal City, past the Pentagon, across Key Bridge into Georgetown and down to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It kicked by the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments, the black wall commemorating Vietnam, the massive dome of the Capitol building, and back again to Virginia across the Fourteenth Street Bridge. The race had been delayed two weeks this year by the terrorist kidnapping and murder of the vice president; but with Sophie Payne’s body returned now to Washington and her funeral scheduled for the following morning, the Marine Corps had received the green light to run. Like thousands of others, Daniel was ready.
He left Hillsboro, West Virginia, before dawn, and drove straight east through Maryland until he reached the District border. He’d shopped a downtown army-navy surplus place for the standard Marine private’s uniform and peaked cap; he was wearing his black army boots and dog tags. Rebekah had clipped and shaved his brown hair so that the scalp shone through to the level of his ears. He’d strapped a plastic armband to his right bicep with a label that read race staff in big block capitals.
At five-thirty a.m., Hains Point in East Potomac Park was still open to vehicular traffic. He drove his truck to a picnic area and killed the engine, conscious of ghosts in the early morning darkness.
Once, when Dolf was maybe seven or eight, he’d driven into the city as dusk fell and parked right about here. Put Bekah and the boy in the pickup’s flatbed and tucked a blanket around them. They’d lain there, watching the bellies of the great jets soar so close to their faces in takeoff and landing that they could almost have touched the blinking lights. The scream of turbo engines was deafening, the closest thing to war Daniel could imagine. Young Dolf was exhilarated—leaping up from his blanket as though he might catch a plane’s wheel and sail off into the sky. He was always desperate to go someplace else, Daniel thought. Desperate to fly.
He was sitting here now because of that boy and his clipped wings, the wild animal joy of a child’s face when he believes his time is never-ending. He was here for Dolf and the world that boy had lost.
Dana thrust her left foot against the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial and leaned forward to stretch her calf muscles. She’d been training for six months, gradually building her mileage each week despite the injuries that plagued her body, aware that more than just her own pride rode on the outcome of this race. She was the Speaker’s wife, after all—the highly visible second wife of George Enfield, whom pundits called the next presidential hopeful—and Washington society columns followed her every move with thinly disguised malice. She was thirty-seven years old, and the diabetes she calibrated throughout the day had become as famous as her height or the clothing designers she patronized fearlessly for every official function. Dana was, by nature, a private person, but George’s gradual rise to power in Congress had forced her to submit to the press’s mania for detail. She found she could talk about her disease more easily than her soul. Two years ago, she’d become a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
She was a blunt advocate for stem-cell research, despite the dictates of her husband’s party, which regarded every form of fetal experimentation with horror and reproach. She flew in children with diabetes from all over the country and led tours of Capitol Hill. Sponsored hearings that supported research and put the kids front and center. Today she was running in a JDF T-shirt imprinted with the faces of those children. She’d won the signatures of ten thousand people across the country: Each had pledged a dollar to the JDF for every mile she managed to run.
You’re absolutely nuts, George had said heatedly when she began to train six months ago. Do you know what you’ll do for your precious cause if you collapse and die of insulin shock in front of a whole platoon of Marines?
“They have medical stations,” she’d replied patiently. “I’m carrying insulin in my fanny pack. I’ll eat the oranges. The protein bars. You can meet me at certain points along the race with soda pop.”
In the end, he’d agreed to do it, and not just for the pub- licity she’d begun to attract. He’d somehow managed to steal a few hours from each weekend to stand vigil during her training runs, amusing Mallory on her scooter and offering water to Mommy while she clocked her miles. He’d told the press he believed in and supported his wife. He rubbed liniment on her legs without a word, his fingertips oddly gentle as they traced her hardening quadriceps. He did ask repeatedly if she was determined to go through with it—and she understood the fear that loomed in the back of his mind. He was fifty-three years old. He’d already lost one woman he loved to an untimely death. He would never tell Dana to stay home in bed at six a.m. on race day, but he could not pretend what he did not feel.
Because parking was impossible to find that morning, even for a Congressional limousine, they’d taken the Metro to Arlington like any other marathon couple. The only difference in their situation, Dana thought, was the photographers who’d tracked them from the moment they’d left their front door in Kalorama, Mallory swinging between them. She’d hoped that Sophie Payne’s funeral would deflect attention from what some reporters were calling Dana Enfield’s Run for Her Life. But Payne was last week’s story; she was today’s.
“Let me pin your number to your shirt,” George said quietly in her ear. “It’s eight-twenty. Ten minutes to the start.”
As he stabbed a pin into her chest by mistake, four flashbulbs went off in Dana’s eyes. She wondered fleetingly if any of the reporters had trained enough to keep up with her.
Daniel lay flat on his back under the cover of some bushes, avoiding the curious and trying to quell his own jitters. For the past hour and a half he’d watched a group of Marines setting up the tables and paraphernalia for Water Point 11 and Aid Station 7, as their signs proclaimed them; about ten guys, as best he could judge from his position a quarter-mile distant. They were spinning tunes and working together like a well-oiled machine, their jacket sleeves rolled high on the bicep. Confident in their sense of mission, as he had been once.
A two-mile loop of the course skirted the river here at Hains Point, just past the Jefferson Memorial. Planes from Reagan International buzzed the landscape every few seconds. The air was fresh and clear: Today’s crowd would be enormous. The runners who survived to reach Daniel’s water station would already have clocked twenty miles. Some of them would be staggering, their Achilles tendons on the point of tearing. Others would be walking, too exhausted to run the last six miles. Ahead of them would be the bridge—the Fourteenth Street Bridge, where the wind off the Potomac would force the runners backward as they struggled toward the finish. Those who limped past Daniel would seize his cups of water gladly, and toss the contents down their throats.
The first batch—called the Elite Group, the highest-seeded one hundred fifty athletes from all over the world—would be clipping off five-minute miles as though the pace were no more difficult than bouncing a tennis ball. Most of them, Daniel knew, were Africans. It was natural they could beat the pants off the rest—they’d been running from something most of their lives. Somewhere behind them would be the six-minute milers, the fleet-footed aspirants to Elite glory. They’d reach his current position in the next ten to twenty minutes. After them would come the rest of the fifteen thousand weary runners, hour after hour: The eight-minute milers. The ten-minute milers. The people whose best pace four hours out from the start would be a walk or a crawl. The Marines gave them a total of seven hours to complete a course the winner would finish in a little over two; Daniel had to be ready for the long haul.
He glanced at his watch. Straight-up ten o’clock. He’d already unloaded the plastic drums filled with water from the back of his truck. The Marines were pouring a particular brand of purified stuff that was heavily promoted on the race Web site. Daniel had about two dozen bottles of Deer Creek Springs stacked up next to his coolers. He broke the plastic sleeve on a stack of paper cups as the front runner approached the entry to East Potomac Park just off Independence Avenue, a skinny little black guy with a skull cropped close as a pitted peach.
Daniel turned the tap on the water cooler and watched the liquid spill into the cup. It was tinged faintly brown, as though it came from rusted pipes; he thrust the paper cupful into the outstretched hand of the frontrunner.
“Lookin’ good!” he cheered, clapping. “Lookin’ strong! You go, guy.”
The man tipped the water to his lips, crushed the cup in his hand, and ran on. Another marathoner was right behind him, reaching for Daniel’s water.
• • •
Dana Enfield was a ten-minute miler. She kept three things in mind as she made her way toward Water Point 4 in Georgetown. She had to keep running. She could not twist her ankle or fall over from low blood sugar. And she had to see George and Mallory.
They’d told her they’d be waiting there, at mile marker 9. An hour and a half into the race, and the day as bright as a new-minted penny. She craned her head for a glimpse of her daughter’s face.
The crowd was heavier here on the narrow sidewalks, thrust back against the old brick buildings by the police lines that marked off the spectators from the swollen river of runners trundling down M Street. For an anxious moment she thought she’d missed them, but then somebody called out “Dana!” and she saw George’s black hair above his suede jacket, Mallory hoisted on his shoulders. Her daughter was waving a pennant with JDF printed on it in blood red letters, and her mouth was open in a thrilled shriek. Her mom. Her mom was running in the race!
Dana’s throat tightened and she drew a deliberate breath, waving to the two people she loved most. The crowd carried her past. George was trotting through the spectators, bumping them with his elbows and Mallory’s feet as they dangled from his shoulders, his eyes fixed on her face. Somewhere he’d lost the photographers. She couldn’t tell from his expression whether she looked fine—or as though she was going to collapse.
“Aid Station five’s at Rock Creek,” he shouted, “if you need it. Two miles down! See you at the Reflecting Pool!”
She nodded, waved again, and then he was behind her, slipping back like a stone in a rushing stream. The Reflecting Pool was mile marker 14 or 15—she couldn’t recall—but it meant she’d be more than halfway. She wanted to push on—wanted to pick up her pace if possible—but she was aware of a singing sensation in her brain as though her entire body was about to lift off the pavement. A warning bell clanged in her mind. Too much insulin. It usually took her this way, with a giddy abandon that could end in shock. She should have eaten the orange at mile marker 6, but she hadn’t wanted it then. Now she was past the Marines with their bananas.
She slowed her steps slightly and fumbled in her fanny pack for a protein bar and juice pack. Glad, for once, that George wasn’t watching.
Four hours into the race, Daniel had lost count of the cups he’d poured and passed to runners of every description: women of fifty shuffling toward the finish, young guys with buff shoulders and sharp-prowed noses glistening with sweat; couples running together; aging men stumbling through their last course. Hains Point was the informal finish line for many of them who could manage twenty miles but no further. After a bit of food and a visit to the aid station, some of them packed it in. Others sat for a bit on the grassy spaces of the park, which in Daniel’s opinion had to be a mistake. Once you sat down on a marathon, you weren’t likely to start running again.
At first he’d tried to be selective about which runners he handed his cups. He wanted to get the Marines who were competing in their tight shorts and singlets—and the foreigners and the coloreds and anybody who looked like they might be Jewish. But after a while, the pack was so thick he couldn’t stop to judge individual faces. He was the first man in uniform any of them saw, and they expected him to be reaching toward them with water. Their hands were out long before they’d lumbered up to his position. The beauty of the seamless repetitive motion caught him in its rhythm: pour and hand; pour and hand; pour, pour, pour and hand. Some of the runners spat out the water as soon as it hit their tongues, crushing the cups in their fists and tossing them to the ground; but Daniel didn’t mind.
And then, nearly four hours after the race’s start, he saw a face he recognized.
A white rime of sweat had dried on her flushed cheeks, so that they were mottled as frosted strawberries. She was lean as a Thoroughbred and her long legs were shaking slightly as they moved toward him; a few strands of her dark hair, pulled back in a tight ponytail, dangled by her ear. Dana Enfield. The Speaker’s wife. Couldn’t miss her face, it was plastered all over the newspapers and magazines, taking money from honest people’s purses and giving it to doctors so’s the abortion rate could rise and keep more of the Devil’s Spawn alive. ’Fore you know it they’ll be breeding babies for their stem cells and killing them at birth. A real factory operation for the Zoggites in power.
She was looking at him, too, her dark eyes filled with something that might be pain. He held out a cup.
“Is there an aid station?” she gasped, “somewhere around here?”
He pointed toward the Marines who were working the crowd farther down the road.
“Thanks,” she said.
And drank his dose to the dregs.
LANGLEY, VIRGINIA, 9:43 A.M.
The beauty of that Sunday morning—the unseasonable blue of the arcing sky, the crisp breeze tugging at the few remaining leaves—was lost on Caroline Carmichael. There are no windows in the vaults of the CIA’ s New Headquarters Building, no view but computer screens and cubicle partitions and the unremitting whiteness of the walls. The fluorescent lights sang to themselves somewhere high over her head, beyond the register of human sound, and a screen saver wove through its monotony of variation. Otherwise the Counterterrorism Center was quiet and almost empty. Only her branch chief, Cuddy Wilmot, was there to witness her act of defiance, and he did so from the safety of his office doorway, leaning wordlessly against the jamb. She was cleaning out her desk.
It had been more than ten years since Caroline had received her security clearance, the badge with the bar code that admitted her to the CIA’s compounds and covert installations, the months of training in weapons and tradecraft and raw survival that most intelligence analysts never used. She was moving slowly this morning, like a woman who hadn’t slept in days, shifting the piles of useless paper into the brown paper burn bags with her left hand. Her right arm was wrapped in a sling. Seven days earlier she’d been shot in the shoulder while the vice president of the United States died a brutal death. Tomorrow she would attend the woman’s funeral. And then—and then what, exactly? She had no answer for the question of how to live the rest of her life. It was enough to burn the evidence she’d accumulated thus far.
“You’ll have to come back for your exit interviews,” Cuddy told her. “There are papers to sign. Statements. Dare will want to see you.” Dare being Darien Atwood, Director of Central Intelligence, Grand Poobah of the nation’s spooks. Exit interviews. Vows of silence. They would take her badge. Caroline shrugged dismissively, and remembered too late that it was painful.
What was Cuddy feeling, exactly? Regret? Helplessness? Abandonment? He was standing over her as she sat cross-legged on the industrial carpet in her jeans, no makeup on and her blond hair tumbled over her forehead. They’d met this way before, in the off hours of a hundred Sundays wasted in the secure vacuum of the Tempest-tested vault. They’d shared sleepless nights of hunting the terrorist hydra, a beast struck down in one place only to rise in another. They were the U.S. government’s acknowledged authorities on a group called 30 April, neo-Nazi killers who’d kidnapped and murdered the vice president in Germany two weeks before. But she and Cuddy had been operating on partial information for years. Deliberately deceived by the one man they’d never thought to question—their boss.
Caroline understood now exactly how she’d been used, and how she’d allowed it to happen. Thirty April had become her obsession, and like all consuming desires, this one had blinded her. She and Cuddy were the ideal pawns: eager for justice, hungry for revenge, dedicated and single-minded with time to burn. Neither of them had any family to speak of. Their hobbies were long dead. But they had each other and that perfect understanding that springs up sometimes between inhabitants of the covert world. A world gone black, Caroline thought now, where the only friend you trust is the one who remains a stranger.
They’d been endlessly useful to their boss, Scottie Sorensen, the CIA’s subtle Chief of Counterterrorism. Two personable, intelligent people in their late thirties who could render the most complex organizational diagram into policymaker’s English. Scottie had backed them up and supported them to the hilt and unleashed them on the truth with a pocketful of lies. Cuddy looked prepared to continue telling those lies as long as necessary; Caroline had typed her resignation and e-mailed it to the chief an hour ago.
Cuddy was on duty today, in the pressed khakis and Oxford cloth shirt of a man who might be summoned at any moment to the White House Situation Room. The fact that he could continue to slave for a boss who’d wasted more than two years of his life was disturbing to Caroline; but then, Scottie Sorensen had not planted Cuddy smack in the middle of 30 April. Scottie had saved that plum—that honor—for Caroline’s husband, Eric, the guy he’d loved like a son and thrown to the wolves without a backward glance.
Eric is dead, he’d told Caroline nearly three years ago when a jet went down off the coast of Turkey; 30 April blew up his plane. That much was true, of course—only Eric hadn’t been on MedAir 901. He’d been busy crafting a legend: a perfect backstopped identity for an undercover operation so secret only Scottie knew it existed. Eric had become a terrorist killer in the employ of Mlan Krucevic, head of the 30 April organization, while Scottie ruthlessly buried him in the minds of the people he’d known and loved. Nobody—not Dare, not Cuddy, not the budget wonks who funded covert ops—had suspected Eric’s survival. Not even Caroline, his widow.
For two and a half years, the yearning for vengeance got Caroline up in the morning and kept her from bed at night. When she learned her husband was still alive—and had actually helped kidnap the vice president of the United States—it was Eric she accused of betrayal, not Scottie. Eric, after all, had walked away from a woman and a marriage and a life; Eric had handed her a living death. Sent out to find him—to find Vice President Sophie Payne—Caroline had wavered between hatred and a desire to hurt him the way she’d been hurting for years.
Now she knew it was Scottie, not Eric, who’d pulled all their strings.
Our boy got out in time, Scottie said as she walked off Air Force Two behind Sophie Payne’s casket. He’s 30 April’s last man standing and you’re never to speak his name out loud again, hear? Blow the whistle on me and I’ll have you up in front of a Congressional investigation so fast your head will spin, lady. Believe that.
“I’ve already talked to Dare,” she told Cuddy now. “There’s nothing left to say. She has everything Eric could give her about 30 April’s networks worldwide. She knows all there is to know about Scottie. She won’t fire him, Cuddy. He’s too dangerous.”
He glanced down at the document in his hands, as though it were a script. “And you won’t work here as long as he does.”
Of course he would. Despite the fact that Eric was his best friend.
“This is your career, Caroline. Christ—it’s your life. What’re you going to do out there alone?”
A glimpse in her mind suddenly of water fragile as blue glass, palm fronds ruffled by a breeze. The beach was empty. Only she and the sun were on it. She said nothing, and went back to trashing her files. HARPER’S FERRY, WEST VIRGINIA, 5:33 P.M.
He’d changed into jeans and a hunting jacket once he got back to the truck, tossing the fatigues in a Dumpster full of marathon trash. It was a seventeen-minute drive through the late afternoon traffic to Adams-Morgan, where he stopped only long enough to send a fax. He ate the lunch Bekah had packed for him while he drove north, through the populous suburbs of Prince George’s County across the Maryland border. At the edge of Baltimore he picked up the interstate and turned southwest, toward Hillsboro. It all took maybe an hour. Five o’clock by his digital watch.
No one had questioned him. Nobody had thought his solitary water station looked strange among the boisterous Marines. Nobody followed him home. Daniel Becker took the endurance of his luck as a Sign. The Leader stood at his right hand.
At Harper’s Ferry, he eased the truck onto the verge of the road above the massive confluence of two rivers and pulled out his cell phone. Rebekah would want to know he was okay.
A horn blared as a huge sport utility vehicle—Japanese, Daniel noticed—shouldered past his pickup. A woman with a blond head of hair solid as a military helmet commanded the wheel. She had four kids in the back and they rode in their raised seats like royalty borne on a paladin. Bitch, Daniel thought wearily. Mindin’ my own bizness while you take over the entire highway with your foreign car costs more’n my whole trailer. You and your kids’ll be the first bodies on the bonfire, I’ll tell you what.
He almost reached for the M16 he kept behind the driver’s seat, but then Rebekah picked up and he caught her voice like the lifeline it’d always been. “Hey, girl,” he said.
“First errand’s done. Couple more to go.”
“Need any milk?”
“I’ll see you at home.”
How long had it been, he wondered as she hung up, since his wife had told him she loved him? Not since Dolf was put in the ground. He stabbed at the phone’s buttons and looked around for the bitch in the SUV. Gone.
Daniel pulled out into the stream of traffic. He’d dump the truck in the lot behind Lanier’s package store and pick up the bike. Just in case his calculations were wrong, and somebody had been watching after all.
WASHINGTON, D.C., 9:15 P.M.
The rumors of widespread illness began three hours after the marathon was officially over, and the broad hill on the Virginia side of the Potomac where the race ended was bare of everything by that time except protein-bar wrappers and empty electrolyte bottles and a space blanket or two, crumpled and dancing in the rising November breeze. Darkness fell early that day; a front had moved in from the west and rain threatened. By dinnertime the Marines had dismantled their water stations and checkpoints and loaded them into military transport trucks. Nothing of the race was left but bad news.
The initial reports were anecdotal: nausea and vomiting among a disparate group of marathoners. There were twenty-six cases in the nation’s capital . . . there were forty-five . . . there were eighty-three. But who wouldn’t puke after running more than twenty-six miles? The newscasters downplayed the stories; one doctor suggested a flare-up of salmonella. Then the winner of the men’s race—a twenty-year-old Zairian named Felix Nguza, already in New York for a flight out of the country—turned up in a Midtown emergency room prostrate with diarrhea. George Enfield caught a glimpse of the guy’s face, beaded with sweat, on the evening news.
Dana had finished the race in four hours and sixteen minutes, though she’d been forced to stop twice at aid stations to have her insulin level checked. George had found her three times during the day: in Georgetown, at the Reflecting Pool, and finally at the chute reserved for late finishers in Arlington. He’d been waiting to wrap her in the shining thermal blanket Mallory thought was fit for a futuristic princess; and he’d been struck, as he did so, at how strong Dana felt. He’d expected her to fall to the ground once she crossed the finish line. She’d been laughing, instead.
The pledges she’d gathered from all across the country would bring $262,000 to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. They’d celebrated at home with a long hot bath and take-out Thai. Mallory stayed up late, eating noodles and drinking her first champagne. As he carried his daughter upstairs at eight-thirty, she’d whispered drowsily in his ear, “I’m going to beat the world someday, just like Mommy.”
Dana started vomiting while he read bedtime stories to their daughter. Forty-three minutes later, when she slipped into unconsciousness, an ambulance arrived to take her to Sibley Hospital.
Caroline had no intention of answering the door when the bell rang at ten minutes past ten that night. She’d been ambushed by the press at least eight times since Tuesday, with requests for exclusive interviews and talk show appearances and photo ops. Because she was a woman who’d entered a foreign terrorist compound completely alone, she was a media sensation. President Jack Bigelow had called her a hero—he badly needed to find one—and there was the pitiful fact of her wounded shoulder, the interesting effect of the sling.
A few print journalists had camped on her front steps for a while, until her persistent refusal to talk to anybody about what she’d seen in Sarajevo discouraged them. Her face had appeared as a tiny inset above the vice president’s photograph on the cover of Time and Newsweek, but everything those magazines printed about her was completely sanitized and came from the CIA’s Public Information Office. Cuddy Wilmot had offered to put her up for a few days, just until the funeral was over, and Dare Atwood had told her to get a room under a false name at the Tysons Marriott; but Caroline knew that if she didn’t go home immediately, she never would. The fugitive impulse—shut the door on that past, that forsaken master bedroom, those bottles of wine stacked willy-nilly in hope of a party—was staggering.
Caroline was afraid to talk to anybody—afraid that if the words started coming they’d never stop until she’d spilled her guts and screwed them all, Dare and the Agency and the husband who wasn’t lying cold in his grave in Arlington. How to keep going? How to pretend she was the same person she’d been two weeks ago? How to tidy up the bits of the past and throw them on some fire, like the burn bags full of useless paper she’d sent to the Agency’s incinerator this morning? Should she sell the town house she’d bought with Eric, get rid of its tidy front lawn with the boxwood hedge, its gleaming black door, the knocker in the shape of a dolphin she hadn’t been able to resist?
Instead, she lay on her sofa in a pair of old pajamas and ate potato chips straight out of the bag for dinner.
She was, if the truth were told, in a smoldering depression. Depression because the weight of failure and bitterness pressed down on her mind like a cinder block hurtling from the sky. Smoldering, because the flames of her outrage were banked now, waiting for the spark to flare and consume the man she hated. Scottie Sorensen. Who’d hijacked her past and gagged her future. Who’d made sure Eric could never come home again.
So when the bell rang a second time, it took her a minute to react. A fist pounded on her front door and a voice shouted “Carrie.” It was possible she knew that voice, but she’d been washing the chips down with a venerable Mourvedre and her senses were a tad clouded. She glanced at the window light to the left of the door and saw shapes looming. Men.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” she muttered to the empty bottle. Where was that beach she’d glimpsed this morning, that tropic emptiness? She wanted only to slip out of her clothes and walk forward through the sand.
Instead, she padded listlessly to the door.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
FRANCINE MATHEWS spent four years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA, where she trained in operations and worked briefly on the investigation into the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. A former journalist, she lives and writes in Colorado, where she is at work on her next thriller, The Alibi Club.
From the Hardcover edition.
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The 30 April terrorist group was thought to have been destroyed during a deadly shootout in Europe (see THE CUTOUT). However, unbeknownst to the CIA this lunatic fringe has an American cell. One such devotee, Daniel Becker commits mass murder at Washington's Marine Corps Marathon. Distributing water during the race, Daniel included deadly Ricin in the drinks he served to the runners. --- CIA intelligence analyst Caroline Carmichael ran that fatal race and almost succumbed to Daniels¿ deadly elixir. She soon learns that the perpetrators behind the mass murder marathon belong to 30 April, a group that she and other members of a task force thought they eliminated across the Atlantic. Now, bragging to the Washington Post that retribution for the European debacle has begun, this dangerous group plans vengeance on a biblical scale with Caroline being one of the eye for an eye targets.--- Carline makes BLOWN must reading for readers who appreciate a powerful terrorist vs. anti terrorist action-packed thriller with the enemy wrapped inside the American flag. A sidebar involving a 30 April task force peer falling in love with her adds depth to the heroine, who loves her spouse, an undercover operative somewhere in Europe. Caroline, a human epitome of the energizer bunny, keeps on ticking even when confronted with overwhelming odds including her husband compromised by DC bureaucrats forcing her to choose between her country and her man. Francine Matthews provides a fabulous action-packed tale.--- Harriet Klausner
(Ish meh Bay..)