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Priority: Full Exposure
By Debra Webb
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWinnetka, Illinois, Monday, 10:15 a.m.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you right now."
The tip of the gun barrel bored into her skull. She shuddered at the harsh words. Dear God, please help me! Don't let him kill me until I know she's safe.
"I don't know what else you want from me." The words echoed hollowly from her throat. A defeated sob tore loose from her trembling lips before she could stop it. "I've done everything you asked."
"You're pathetic," the evil man hovering above her hissed. "The least you could have done was fight, but you just dropped to your knees like a spineless puppet." He laughed, the sound cruel, mocking.
"Don't you know it's people like you who make the few and strong like us so powerful?" The cold steel drilled harder into her head.
She didn't have to look up to know he stared down at her, the truth in his words glaring like a humiliating spotlight. He would kill her, she didn't doubt her fate for a single moment. And he was right, she was worse than pathetic ... less than nothing. She closed her eyes and pictured her sweet baby in her mind. Who would take care of her now? There was no one else.
And it was entirely her own fault.
"Maybe ..." the hateful voice offered slowlyas the pressure on her skull lessened ever so slightly. "There might be one last use for you."
For the first time since she'd fallen to her knees, pleading for mercy, she looked up at him. "Anything." She moistened her brutally dry lips. "I'll do anything. Just -" she swallowed hard "- just don't hurt her."
"You gave us a name." One side of the man's vile mouth lifted in the barest hint of a smile. "We want him."
Dread expanded in her chest once more. "I don't know what else I can do." She'd done everything they had asked already. He'd promised to leave her alone. But the man who'd made that promise didn't appear to be in charge anymore. Another, even more evil man apparently had control. She couldn't trust this one. Though she'd never met him before today, somehow she knew with complete certainty.
This man would kill her.
She didn't even care anymore. If only he wouldn't hurt -
"Bring him to us," he ordered, a new kind of chill in his tone. "We want him to pay for what he has done."
Confusion spiraled into her already fragmented thoughts. "I - I'm not sure -"
"We want to teach him a lesson first, then he'll pay," he explained, an eerie look of anticipation in those icy gray eyes. "Yes." He nodded succinctly as if having weighed the merit of his suggestion he found it worthy. "Perhaps if you did this for us, we could spare her."
A glint of faltering hope sent a new wave of emotion brimming against her lashes. "Please." She lifted her hands in supplication. "Please don't hurt her." She struggled to draw in an agonizing breath. "I want to help you. I swear I do, just don't -"
"You have forty-eight hours. I'll be in touch with specific instructions. Bring him to us or she dies."
Terror squeezed her heart. "Please." God, please don't let him do this ... "How can I bring this man to you when I don't even know him? How am I supposed to find him?"
The man wielding the ultimate power of life and death over her world snickered. "Don't worry, Cole Danes will find you."
Inside the Colby Agency, Monday, 10:30 a.m.
Cole Danes watched Lucas Camp enter the office of Victoria Colby-Camp, head of the Colby Agency. Cole had anticipated this meeting. He'd known when he turned in his final report that his conclusions would not sit well with his employers on this assignment.
No one liked the truth when it hit too close to home.
He'd been summoned to Victoria's office this morning, however, she had insisted on waiting for Lucas's arrival before starting the meeting. Cole hadn't argued. His findings were conclusive. Whether she wanted to believe him or not was strictly her decision. Lucas, however, would surely look upon the situation with a bit more objectivity. He, after all, had been the one to hire Cole. Lucas Camp would not second-guess Cole's work.
Lucas, his trademark limp scarcely noticeable to anyone unaware of his past, moved to the wing chair adjacent to Cole's and nodded once to his lovely wife as he sat down. He propped his distinctive cane against the chair and leaned back, his full attention settling onto Cole.
"Mr. Danes," Victoria began, her voice stern yet with an underlying fragility that Cole found intensely curious, "I have reviewed your report very thor-oughly and I must say that your documentation of evidence is rock solid."
Cole inclined his head in agreement with her assessment. "I'm certain you expected nothing less."
He studied her during the moment of uncomfortable stillness that followed. Strong, capable. Victoria was both of those things. He knew from the dossier he'd compiled upon Lucas's request that he consider this assignment, that she had suffered greatly in her life, had every reason to falter, and yet she had not.
The uncertainty - the utter vulnerability - he saw now surprised him. Had his findings somehow served as the final blow that would crumble her already heavily burdened emotional fortress?
"Having recognized that undeniable fact," she continued, surprising him once more with the sudden burst of strength in her tone, "I will, without reservation, stand behind this member of my staff in unconditional rejection of your charges."
Excerpted from Priority: Full Exposure by Debra Webb Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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