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"What do you mean, he's escaped?"
Dr. Claire Lamont gripped her cell phone tighter and stared out her kitchen window at the slashing rain. Two days ago, she had sent FBI agent Andy Forrester to Ridsdale Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation. Now he was out?
Gene Welland, her contact at the Bureau's Cincinnati office, said, "At eight o'clock Forrester was in his room, an hour later he was gone."
The explanation didn't make sense to her. Not with the state-of-the-art security measures at the facility. "How could that happen?"
"We think he had inside help."
"You suspect Ridsdale staff?" she asked, pacing between the wall oven and the granite-topped island. "Or someone within the Bureau?"
"Too soon to point a finger," Gene said, clearly in no mood to speculate. "I'm calling because a nurse at the hospital reported he threatened to kill you."
Dread twisted in her stomach. Her gaze darted to the patio door. One forceful blow would smash the glass, then Forrester could slip a hand inside, twist the lock and—
She stopped pacing. Exhaled a deep breath. A long day of interviews and flight delays had set her on edge. "Forrester probably lashed out at me without meaning it."
Or maybe he did mean it. Maybe he was in such a rage about her confining him to Ridsdale that he'd try to harm her.
She resumed pacing, her mouth dry, her palms sweating. Thunder rumbled in the distance and a streak of lightning sliced through the sky.
"I'm not taking any chances," Gene said. "In fact, I've already sent an agent to pick you up, so get ready to leave."
"I'm just back from Minneapolis. My luggage is still in my front hall."
"Then you'll be set to go when our guy gets there."
What if her enraged patient showed up first?
"I have a better idea," she said. "You know the coffee shop where we met last month?"
"That's it. I'll meet him there."
After a short silence, Gene relented. "Okay, Lisa is calling Brent to redirect him to that location."
Brent? As in Brent don't-waste-my-time Young?
Please let there be another agent in the Cincinnati office with the same first name.
"Who are we talking about?" she asked.
Damn. That was the field agent she'd met several weeks earlier when Gene had asked her to talk to his team after the shooting death of a colleague, Pete Sanderson. No degree in psychology was necessary to interpret Young's slouched posture, guarded expression or impatient tapping of his foot. Obviously, he viewed her presentation about counseling options as useless and had only shown up because he'd been ordered to.
Young's disdain for counseling hadn't surprised her. What had surprised her was the surge of attraction she'd felt for him. With his linebacker shoulders, coal-black hair and cheekbones that hinted at a Native American ancestor, he looked like a hard-core renegade. But there had been something appealing about his smile—which he'd let loose a few times in response to his colleagues' wisecracks. Against all logic, she wished her remarks had elicited the same response.
The wind rattled the panes of glass. The storm was getting worse.
"You can count on Brent to protect you," Gene said, correctly interpreting her silence as a lack of enthusiasm for her escort.
The overhead light went out, plunging the room into darkness. "Oh no," she muttered.
"The storm just killed the power." She lifted her free hand, but she couldn't see it—or anything else.
"Check outside," Gene said, his tone urgent. "See if the streetlights are on."
Hadn't he been listening to her? No power meant no streetlights. Unless—
Understanding dawned on her, followed by a stab of fear. Unless somebody had cut the power to her house.
Still holding her cell phone, she rushed to the window. After what seemed like an eternity, her shaking fingers forced apart two slats of the horizontal blinds.
"The whole neighborhood's dark," she said, relief making her voice thin and breathless.
"Go to Java Heaven. Call me when you get there."
Pocketing her phone, she stared into the surrounding darkness. Collecting her luggage and shoes would be a lot easier if she had even a glimmer of light. She headed into the hall, where she kept a flashlight in a maple cabinet. As her outstretched hands made contact with the wood, the basement stairs creaked. She froze, listening for more creaks. The only sounds were the ones made by the storm driving rain against the windows and the pounding of her heart.
She retrieved the flashlight, walked two steps. Stopped and listened again. Nothing.
The knotted muscles in her shoulders relaxed, and she nearly laughed. Gene's call had made her jumpy. She was alone in her home. Of course, she was alone.
No creak this time. A soft rustle. The shifting of clothes. Someone was in the hall.
Fear shot through her. She bolted for the front door.
When a deep baritone ordered, "Stop," she whirled around and smashed the flashlight into the source of that voice.
His surprised yelp was extremely satisfying. She swung the flashlight again but didn't connect this time. Instead, a muscled forearm shoved her backward. She fell hard against the wall, crying out as her right shoulder absorbed the brunt of the impact.
The flashlight bumped against the door frame.
Oh God, let the batteries work.
She depressed the switch. A brilliant beam erupted from the cylinder, and she directed it at his face, hoping to blind him. But the circle of light revealed he had his head tipped back and his hand over his nose. Blood streamed down his clean-shaven face.
Forrester had a beard.
"Nice work, doc. You damn near broke my nose."
Anxiety must have dulled her senses earlier because this time she recognized his voice. The man dripping blood all over her front hall was Brent Young, not the mentally unstable agent who'd threatened her.
She sagged against the wall in relief.
"Don't you dare faint on me," he said. "If anybody deserves to pass out, it's me. I got knifed by a junkie last year, and it didn't bleed this much."
If Young expected an apology, he'd be disappointed. She had nearly suffered a heart attack because of him. "You were supposed to meet me at Java Heaven. Didn't Gene's assistant call you?"
He looked at her, his eyes narrowed against the glare of the flashlight. "My cell vibrated, but I was too busy to answer it—"
"—because you were breaking into my house, right?"
He gripped her wrist, redirecting the beam of light toward the floor. "I arrived just before you did and wanted to make sure Forrester wasn't hiding inside. By the way, you should have bars installed on your basement windows."
"I'll add it to my chore list," she muttered.
His next words were barely more than a whisper. "Aren't you glad it's me, not Forrester, here with you now?"
In the semidarkness, his voice sounded intimate, seductive. Warmth from his hand seeped through her skin and traveled up her arm. Her heart beat faster, but this time fear wasn't the cause. It was attraction, raw and potent. An attraction that roared through her blood, demanding release. An attraction she had to suppress.
She jerked her wrist out of his grasp.
He gave a low, knowing chuckle.
Gene respected Young's ability to keep her safe. She shouldn't let him unsettle her.
"Let's head out," he said.
"I need my shoes."
He nodded, then cursed softly. The movement must have started his nose bleeding again. She thought of offering him ice, but it seemed prudent to leave immediately. They could stop and buy ice when they were well away from here.
She shone the flashlight around the hall. The beam illuminated her sneakers in the corner, and she shoved her feet into them. Then she aimed the flashlight toward the spot where she'd left her luggage.
A noise like a car backfiring sounded outside. In the same instant, the pane of glass beside the front door shattered, and a tiny round hole appeared on the side of her carry-on case.
Her blood turned cold.
The bullet had missed her by inches.
Brent cursed as a second bullet plowed into the case. The flashlight was a beacon for the bastard outside.
He knocked the traitorous item out of Claire's hand, dragged her to the floor and covered her with his body. Her full breasts rose and fell in agitation. Under other circumstances, he would have enjoyed the softness of those curves, but tonight wasn't about pleasure. It was about staying alive.
The shooting stopped—probably because the flashlight had gone out after hitting the floor. But the threat wasn't over. Whoever was out there couldn't know if he'd hit his target unless he ventured inside.
Brent placed his lips against her ear and murmured, "Let's go."
"Which way?" she whispered back.
"Back door. Stay low. No noise."
"You need to move if you expect me to."
She shifted, her pelvis bumped against his, reminding him that it had been months since he'd been this close to a woman. Maybe after the danger was over, he'd think about remedying that situation—but not with her.
She wasn't unattractive. Far from it. He didn't remember a word of her info session, but he sure remembered her. Dark blond hair, full lips, flawless skin and a dynamite figure that even a tailored navy suit couldn't conceal. Claire Lamont had definite assets, but she was also a shrink. In his experience, shrinks were trouble, and he'd be a fool to forget it now just because this one came with a husky voice and a curvy body.
Cool, damp air flooded in through the broken glass pane. He climbed to his feet and crept along the hall. The back door was situated off the laundry room. When he reached it, Claire was right behind him.
"Now what?" she asked.
He felt his way through the dark to the connecting door to the garage. Because of the power failure, he couldn't hit the switch to open the garage door. The automatic opener had to be disconnected from the overhead framework so he could lift the door manually.
He descended the wooden steps into the garage. A moment later, his leg nudged the bumper of Claire's car. He skirted around the driver's side and went to stand behind the vehicle. Should be a rope dangling with a handle attached. Reaching up, he moved his hand back and forth, trying to locate it.
Growing impatient, he climbed onto the trunk. The added height made it possible for him to touch the mechanism directly. He reached out, then inhaled as a sharp metal edge nicked his thumb. Damn. This fumbling around in the dark was crazy, but he couldn't risk using the penlight in his pocket. The garage had windows facing onto the front walkway.
Several tries later, he released the hook from the frame. He slid off the car and reached for the garage door. Twisting the handle, he tugged hard. The garage door rolled upward with a loud screech. Hopefully, the shooter would think Claire was attempting to drive away and try to stop her.
He ran back to the connecting door, knowing that it wouldn't take the shooter long to search the garage. He'd likely shoot the lock off the inner door and head inside.
Brent crossed the laundry room to the back door, stretched out both hands, but encountered only empty space.
"Claire?" he whispered.
No response. Damn this darkness.
Retrieving the penlight from his pocket, he shone it around him. The sliver of light flickered over the confined space, revealing a washer, dryer, sink and three-foot-long counter for folding clothes. And nothing else. His frustration surged to a new level. Where the hell had she gone?
Turning on his heel, he aimed the penlight toward the hall. The narrow beam illuminated her suitcase with its two ugly bullet holes. An equally ugly thought crossed his mind. What if Claire hadn't left the laundry room voluntarily? The possibility choked off his annoyance like a tourniquet, and alarm took its place. He'd only spent two or three minutes in the garage, but that could have been enough time for Claire to be dragged out the back door and forced into a waiting vehicle.
A quiet click sounded. The back of his neck prickled.
He removed his semiautomatic pistol from its holster and headed into the hall. As he drew near the kitchen, the pantry door swung open. He aimed his weapon. Despite the cold air seeping in through the broken window, sweat broke out on his brow.
When Claire emerged alone, his relief quickly gave way to anger. "Why didn't you wait for me in the laundry room?"
"Nowhere to hide if the guy broke in before you came back."
A reasonable explanation, but he wasn't about to admit it. "You just took ten years off my life."
"Then I guess we're even."
He knew he'd terrified her earlier. Not his intention, but before he could explain his presence, she'd walloped him in the face with the flashlight. After that, he'd lost all interest in apologizing.
"Come on," he said, turning away.
When he reached the back door, he stopped. "I'll go out first. If it's safe, I'll whistle. Run to the hedge on the right, wait for my next signal, then cross into your neighbor's yard. This time, stick to the plan."
"I will," she promised.
Something settled on the floor beside her. "What's that?"
"Leave it. It'll slow you down."
"No, it won't."
He decided to try a different tack. "Look, we'll stop at a store later, and you can pick up whatever you need."
"Thanks, but what I need is in this bag."
He couldn't believe they were arguing over toiletries. "Claire—"
"Save your breath," she told him. "I'm not going anywhere without it."
Fortunately, Young seemed to accept that arguing with her further would be a waste of time. Time they didn't have.