Read an Excerpt
Deb's eye twitched along with her trigger finger, but she wasn't packing. They'd know. Somehow they knew everything, and they'd warned her if she didn't come alone and unarmed they'd hurt Bobby.
She believed them. Nico Zendaris had made good on every threat so far. Why would she start doubting him now?
Her gaze darted among the faces surging around the frosty Boston street corner. Would someone give her a sign? She clutched her cell phone in the pocket of her coat. She didn't know how they planned to contact her.
One if by land, two if by sea? She was in the right place for signals.
Someone bumped her and mumbled an apology. She stared at the stranger's back, his broad shoulders encased in a puffy down jacket, as he lumbered down the sidewalk. Was that the sign?
She took a few uncertain steps after him, but he turned a corner and disappeared. Stumbling to a stop, she bit her lip. Should she go after him?
The message had ordered her to stand in this spot until further instructions. Was the bump an instruction? Or was the man just a clumsy pedestrian hurrying to his next appointment?
She no longer trusted her instincts since she'd allowed them to snatch Bobby. She should've known. She should've done more.
With a halting gait, she retraced her steps to the lamppost on the corner. If she did everything they asked of her, she'd get Bobby back. Zendaris had promised.
She ground her teeth against the sour bile rising from her gut. She knew better than to trust that man, but what choice did she have?
She'd have to trust him up to the moment he put a bullet in her head. Or she put one in his.
Her cell phone chirped, and she dragged it from her pocket with a hand shaking so badly she almost dropped the phone. She studied the blank display as the phone chirped again. She'd set her phone to vibrate.
She swiveled her head from side to side. Plenty of people with cell phones walked by, but nobody had stopped near her.
The phone chirped again. Gasping, she plunged her hand in her other coat pocket, her fingers colliding with another phone. Not hers.
She grabbed the cell and pulled it from her pocket. It continued its insistent trilling, so she hit the talk button.
"Hello, Deb. For being a crack Prospero agent, it sure took you long enough to figure out you had a ringing phone in your pocket."
The smooth mocking voice stirred her blood, thick with rage. "That was one of your little minions who bumped into me?"
He chuckled. "Very astute of youfinally."
She didn't even know if the man on the phone was Zendaris. She'd never heard his voice even though Prospero Team Three had disrupted one of his biggest arms deals four years ago.
She growled low in her throat. "I should've dropped him in his tracks."
"Tough talk from the first and only female Prospero agent." He clicked his tongue. "But you wouldn't do that now, would you, Deb? Not while we have Bobby."
His words twisted a knife in her belly and she bit back a sob. She refused to show this scum any sign of weakness. "Let me talk to him. I'm not going to do anything more until you do. I have to know he's okay."
"Deb, Deb, Deb. He's not with me, or I'd gladly put him on the phone. Rest assured he's safe and comfortable. We'll give you proof of life soon enough."
His phrase proof of life had her sagging against the lamppost. He'd better show her proof of Bobby's life, or she'd hand Zendaris proof of his own death.
"When? I need something now."
"You have my word, Deb. That's all I can give you at the present timethat and the phone you're using."
She had an urge to toss the thing and the slick voice coming from it into oncoming traffic. But it represented her only connection to Bobby.
She crushed it against her ear. "What's the significance of this phone?"
"It will be our way of communicating with you. It's secure, untraceable, a very special phone. Carry it with you everywhere."
"So what is it, Zendaris? If that's who you really are." Despite the chill in the air, sweat dampened her hairline. She brushed a bead of it away. "What do you want me to do?"
"You Americans, so impatient. You just keep the phone by your side, Deb, and we'll tell you what to do next."
"Why the delay? Tell me what to do now so we can end this game." Silence greeted her plea and she was almost glad of it. A whining, desperate tone had crept into her voicea tone she didn't want Zendaris to hear.
She examined the phone and pushed a few buttons. There were no contacts, no phone numbers appeared and it didn't seem as if she could make an outgoing call. What other special features did it have? A GPS tracking device? A camera? Were they watching her right now?
Closing her eyes, she rested her forehead against the cold metal of the lamppost and dropped the phone in her coat pocket. What was Zendaris after? What did he want her to do?
She swallowed. Why was she kidding herself? He wanted the plans to the anti-drone. He'd had them first, lost them to her Prospero teammate, Cade Stark, and then the plans had been stolen from Cade.
Neither Zendaris nor Prospero knew the location of the plans, but he must think she knew something. Or he planned to use her to get them.
The phone rang again. That was fast. Now maybe they could get down to business.
A different voice greeted her this time, rougher, gruffer. "Face east and take the first right."
She spun around to face the right direction. "Where the man who dropped the phone in my pocket went?"
With the phone clamped to her ear, she strode to the next corner and turned. "What now?"
"Walk two blocks and turn down the alley after the green awning."
She spied a flower shop with a green awning in front and aimed her steps toward it. The man on the other end of the line said nothing, but his heavy breathing kept her moving.
Would they show her some sign that Bobby was okay? Maybe Bobby was down that alley. The thought quickened her steps.
She stopped at the entrance to the alley and braced her hand against the corner of the flower shop building. Her gaze tracked along the length of the alley, stumbling over two Dumpsters but nothing else. No Bobby.
Her shoulders slumped. "I'm in the alley."
"Go to the second Dumpster and take out the black bag."
Her stomach tightened into knots as she crept down the pavement, avoiding the patches of ice that the winter sun hadn't melted. She didn't want to look into that Dumpster. Didn't want to look into any bag.
Fear had her in its grip. Even though she hadn't been acting like it, she was a trained Prospero agent, programmed to laugh in the face of fear.
Without cracking a smile, she pushed up the green lid of the second Dumpster with the heel of her hand. She peered inside and eyed a black duffel bag sitting atop bags of trash and stems, leaves and broken blooms from the flower shop. She gagged at the stench of rotting organic material.
Holding her breath, she balanced one foot on the wheel of the Dumpster and hoisted herself up. She reached into the refuse and snagged the strap of the bag and pulled. It didn't budge.
"I have to put the phone down."
The man grunted in response, and she slid the phone in her pocket. Using both hands, she propelled herself farther into the Dumpster, grabbed the bag with both hands and hauled it out.
She dropped the heavy prize on the ground and crouched beside it. She dipped her hand in her pocket and retrieved the phone. "I have the bag. Should I open it?"
"Yeah, whaddya think?"
She thought if she made one wrong move they'd harm Bobby. It took her two tries to unzip the bag with her trembling hands. When the bag gaped open, she sat back on her heels, her mouth as wide as the opening of the duffel.
"What am I supposed to do with this stuff?"
"Rob a jewelry store."
The shock made her giggle and she toppled over. She sniffed and rubbed her eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"You're robbing a jewelry store. It's a few blocks away."
"Are you crazy? This is what Zendaris wants me to do? Steal some jewels?"
He ignored her questions and began giving her instructions for the robbery. He stopped after every instruction and asked her if she understood. She'd had him repeat the first few directions as the fog slowly cleared from her mind.
Zendaris was serious. He wanted her to rob a store. She knew the consequences if she didn't do it. Was this it? Was this all he'd ask of her?
She might get killed in the attempt, and if she were arrested she would never reveal her motivation. She understood what that would mean for Bobby.
"You got all that?"
"I don't plan on it."
She cleared out her own purse and dumped the contents into the big designer bag that was stuffed in the duffel. She pulled the blond wig over her head and clapped the huge sunglasses on her face.
While sitting on the ground with her back against the Dumpster, Deb slipped a pair of high heels onto her feet. Zendaris had told her to dress professionally. The towering heels must've been an afterthought and were more suited to a hooker than the low heels she'd kicked off, but they added to her disguise.
Peering into the mirror Zendaris had thoughtfully provided, she shoved the dark strands of her hair beneath the wig and applied red lipstick.
She crammed the black ski mask into the purse as well, and then tucked the loaded .45 insidenot that she planned on shooting anyone unless Zendaris showed up in the jewelry store.
She pushed to her feet and dropped the duffel bag along with her own empty purse into the Dumpster. She'd put her shoes and everything else from her purse into the designer bag. She tightened the belt of her wool coat and emerged from the alley a new woman.
Maybe blondes did have more fun. A few men cast assessing glances her way as she wobbled down the sidewalk in her high heels.
She passed by the jewelry store once and waited until the lone customer had left. Then she approached the door and stabbed the buzzer. They must've liked what they saw because the door clicked and she pushed through with butterflies taking flight in her belly.
Two clerks. Deb smiled. In her affected Southern accent, she said, "Ahm lookin' for a diamond bracelet?"
One of the clerks, probably a jeweler, looked up from poking at something on a glass table. The magnifying contraption he wore on his head enlarged his eye and Deb felt as if he were staring right through her disguise.
He went back to his work, and the female clerk crossed the room to a velvet-lined case. "We have some beautiful bracelets over here."
While the clerk bent over the case to unlock it, Deb stepped back and locked the door to the shop, flipping the sign to Closed. She withdrew the gun from her purse as she yanked on the cord to the blinds.
"Excuse me?" The noises had caught the attention of the jeweler and he looked up with his hideously magnified eye.
Before turning around, Deb pulled the ski mask over her head, blond hair and everything, and swung the gun toward him. "Ahm sorry, sir, ahm goin' to have to ask you to move away from the counter."
He dropped his hand from the top of the counter and Deb aimed the gun at his head. "Please don't."
The clerk stood with her mouth open, holding a tray of bracelets in front of her.
"We'll start with those."
While the jeweler kneeled in the middle of the store with his hands behind his head, Deb had the clerk scurrying around the store dumping trays of jewels into her big bag.
Deb apologized repeatedly, but she knew these people would be traumatized. If she could make it up to them one day, she would.
Zendaris never told her how much to steal, so with the bag bulging and half the cases empty, Deb held up her hand. "That's enough. Both of you in the back room. Ahm not goin' to hurt y'all."
She herded them into the back office, which Zendaris had known about. She'd already collected their cell phones, and now she ripped the desk phone out of the wall and smashed it.
"Ahm goin' to lock you in here now, but you should be able to get out soon."
She slammed the door shut and dragged a chair over to wedge it beneath the doorknob. That should hold them until she got away. If she got away.
She pulled the ski mask from her head, shook out her blond hair and replaced her sunglasses. Hoisting the bag with the loot over her shoulder, she slipped from the store, keeping it locked behind her.
Her heels clicked down the sidewalk as she clutched a key chain in her hand and made for the corner. She let out a breath when she saw a blue compact car parked at a meter.
The remote Zendaris had included in the duffel unlocked the car and she slipped inside, her heart pounding unsteadily. She adjusted the rearview mirror and brushed the blond locks from her sweaty brow.
Deb pulled away from the curb. Nice and easy. No hurry. No cops were on her tail. No sirens wailed in her wake.
What did Zendaris want her to do with the jewelry? He didn't need it. Didn't want it. He just wanted herher total submission. He had that. As long as he had Bobby.
But when she got out of this mess, Zendaris would pay. Unless she wound up dead or in jail.
Following the instructions to a T, she drove across the bridge to Cambridge and pulled into the parking lot of a hotel. She hadn't noticed any cops following her, although she'd seen a couple of possible tails and had lost them.
Maybe Zendaris's guys making sure she got to her destination.
She tilted the mirror down and fluffed up the wig. Then she wiped the lipstick from her mouth with a tissue. Not her color.
Checking in was a breeze with her fake ID and the cash Zendaris had provided.
She hitched the bag stuffed with jewels over her shoulder and made a beeline for the elevator. Once inside, she slumped against the wall and closed her eyes.
What did he have planned for her next? She'd see the fear in that poor jewelry store clerk's eyes before she fell asleep tonight.
When the elevator jostled to a stop on her floor, Deb stepped through the doors and wandered down the hallway looking for her room. A couple passed her, arguing on their way to the elevator, and a maid emerged from one of the rooms.
Deb turned a corner and located her room number. She slid the key card in and out. Red lights blinked at her. She tried again and grasped the handle, bracing her hip against the heavy door.
A soft footfall sounded behind her on the dense carpet. She turned her head to the side. But she was too late.
Something hard and unforgiving prodded the small of her back, and a hoarse whisper grated against her ear.
"Keep moving into the room and maybe I won't kill you."