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By Kylie Brant
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVoices from the grave swirled around him, haunting whispers of murder.
James Tremaine stared sightlessly at the scraps of paper laid across the desk before him and reflected that it was an appropriate enough night for ghosts. The wind shrieked through the sky, shaking the windows of the centuries-old estate with demented fists. The dark clouds shot needlelike shards of rain to stab the parched Louisiana ground, to machine-gun against the house. The single lit lamp in the room had flickered more than a few times in the last hour, but its uncertain illumination wasn't necessary. He didn't need the dim spill of light to read the words typed on the bits of paper on the desk. They'd been emblazoned on his mind.
You've got a target on your back.
This project will be your last.
The threats were easily dismissed. It wasn't unusual for competition to rise to a dangerous level in his line of work. But it was the third one, the most recent, that commanded attention. Your parents' deaths weren't accidents. Yours won't be either.
The electricity finally gave up its struggle with the ferocious wind, and the room fell into darkness. James didn't notice. He was too busy fighting an internal battle of his own. He hadn't successfully grown afamily business into a global security corporation by being easily manipulated. Not even his siblings, especially not his siblings, could realize the degree of treachery that lurked beneath every apparently civil contact in his world. As technology exploded daily with new advances, the race to stay ahead of his rivals was a careening, hair-raising ride.
He'd had far more creative schemes than this thrown his way by a competitor intent on beating him to a potential contract: he'd thwarted sabotage at his headquarters; he'd survived two attempts on his life to remove him from competition permanently; but nothing else had felt quite as personal as the words printed on the last note before him.
With cool logic he considered the possibilities, pushing aside for the moment the emotion churning and boiling inside him. The most likely explanation was business, of course. Dredging up his family's tragedy from two decades earlier would distract him from the deadlines imposed by the government contract currently occupying the majority of their manpower. Failure to deliver the newest encryption/decryption package for the Pentagon would remove his company from consideration for the next job, which promised to be even more challenging. Even more lucrative.
With his index finger he traced the edge of the message in the center. Money was another possible motive, he supposed. His family was no stranger to the lengths others would go in order to reap profit by inflicting pain. What was the sender hoping for? To whet his interest for a payoff? But for what? To call off a potential assassin, or by promising decades old information in return?
The messages could just as easily come from a crackpot operating for reasons known only to himself. God knew, there were enough of them around these parts. He didn't need the police to tell him the futility of trying to trace the notes, and with the Pentagon contracts hanging in the balance, just now he could ill afford the resulting publicity.
Lightning lit up the sky outside his den, throwing the interior of the room into momentary relief. A moment later thunder boomed, close enough to shake the graceful antebellum home. But the storm outside paled in comparison to the storm within.
Because there was a still a part of him, a part he was struggling to suppress, that wondered if it could be true.
Your parents' deaths weren't accidents.
He'd read the police reports. Made the identification. He could remember far too well what the battered, mangled bodies had looked like once extracted from the twisted wreckage of the automobile. A vicious memory of the wild, unchecked grief whipped through him, stunning in its power to inflict fresh pain. The twenty-year-old wound throbbed anew, stirring all the old questions that accompany the bitterness of loss. In the end, it was emotion that made the decision for him. Specters from the past tugged at strings of guilt, love and regret.
But it was stirrings of a far different feeling that had him opening the center desk drawer, smoothing the tip of his finger down the smooth barrel of the snub-nosed .38 inside.
A thirst for vengeance.
Excerpted from Dangerous Deception by Kylie Brant Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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