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It was Tuesday at one-fifteen in the afternoon, and with the precision of a Swiss watch Tate Baxter's therapist leaned back in her chair, closed her notebook, smiled, then said, "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?"
Tate's response was just as mechanical. "No, Dr. Bay. Nothing to report."
"Well, I have something I'd like to show you." Tate lifted her head. One-fifteen was the end of the session. Dr. Bay never went over. Never. "Oh?"
The doctor flipped her notebook over and pulled out a newspaper article. "Take a look at this," she said.
Tate took the paper, torn between reading the article and watching Dr. Bay. The therapist, whom Tate had been seeing for almost two years, was clearly excited. That hardly ever happened. In fact, it never had. Not like this. Dr. Bay was a behaviorist, always setting up new challenges and goals for Tate to accomplish between sessions. The outcome never elicited anything but a favorable reaction, no matter the performance. Even when Tate had surpassed her own expectations, the doctor had always been reserved. But now Dr. Bay's eyes were wide with anticipation and her pale cheeks looked flushed.
Tate glanced down and the headline sent her own pulse racing. Kidnapping For Hire. She looked back at Dr. Bay.
"It's all right, Tate. Please, read it."
After a moment of hesitation, Tate started reading.
It begins with a list of your wildest fears. For a few thousand dollars Jerry Brody's personalized kidnapping service will make them come true. Your kidnappers might stuff you into a duffel bag or blindfold you and take you to a faraway cabin. In the dark you might see an alien's mask or a man in a filthy suitstinking like a garbage Dumpster. No two abductions are staged the same way. Your custom kidnapping could stop at a code word or go on for days. Brody and his team might snatch you when you're on the subway or showering in your apartment. After the "event," which some clients compare to meditation, you may feel relief, exhilaration or a newfound sense of personal power.
Tate had to stop. She'd come a long way since she'd first told Dr. Bay about her kidnap phobia and she hadn't had a full-blown panic attack in months. But this? This was
"Breathe, Tate," Dr. Bay said. "Remember what we've practiced."
Closing her eyes, she went to her safe space. After several deep breaths, she focused on each part of her "You're safe. You're in my office and no one's going to hurt you. Picture the glade."
Tate followed Dr. Bay's instructions. By the time she'd finished the awareness exercise she had regained her equilibrium. Her eyes opened to the security of the familiarand the disappointment that she was still, after so much work, at the mercy of her fears.
"Do you want to talk about this now?" Dr. Bay asked, gesturing at the paper still in Tate's hand.
"You want me to hire this man? To let him take me?"
"I want you to think about it. I've been researching this approach for a long time now and I've spoken to a number of colleagues who have used similar techniques. There are reliable case studies where the subjects have been transformed. But remember, it's simply an idea. You're doing very well following the course we're on, and I realize this is unconventional."
Tate winced at the understatement. She could barely imagine what her father would say about this "unconventional" approach.
"When you go home tonight, I'd like you to do some work in your journal. Not about your reaction to the article but about what your life might be like if you could overcome this fear. Okay?"
Tate nodded. "I'll try." "That's all anyone can ask. For what it's worth, you did a great job of calming down. It didn't take long at all."
Tate glanced at her watch. It was a quarter to two. Not bad, considering. It hadn't been that long ago that even the suggestion of something like this would have put her in a panic for days.
She put the article on the side table and grabbed her purse. "I'll see you next week."
"Don't forget to meditate."
She never did. And it had helped. She went out more frequently these days, and the nightmares weren't plaguing her nearly as often. Three cheers for the safe place. If only it could exist somewhere outside of her head.
As she was leaving, she nodded at Stephanie, Dr. Bay's receptionist. There were two people in the waiting room, both of whom appeared perfectly normal. She imagined they thought the same thing about her.
There was no one in the elevator as she stepped in, and she took a moment to push her hair back behind her shoulders, to daub the corners of her mouth, preparing herself for the streets of Manhattan.
Not that she would be on the streetsunless one counted being driven in one of her father's black limousines. The tinted windows hid her from view, making her feel as if the city was one giant store display.
The elevator slowed at the fourth floor. She inched back as a man entered. He was tall and silver-haired, wearing a tailored black pin-striped suit. His shoes looked equally expensive, and when he smiled she could see his veneered teeth had cost him a pretty penny. Not surprising, given the address. Dr. Bay's office overlooked Park Avenue. Her clients all understood, even before the first session, that if they had to ask about the fee, they couldn't afford it.
The man turned to stare at the elevator doors as they rode the rest of the way to the lobby. Only, the doors were reflective and he clearly had no qualms about giving her a very thorough once-over.
She counted the seconds until they reached the lobby, and when the doors slid slowly open she placed her hand strategically so the elevator couldn't be fetched, waiting until the man was halfway across the lobby before she stepped out.
What would her life be like if she stopped being afraid? She had no idea. It was too foreign a concept.
Despite her improvement, her life was about fear, and it had been forever. At twenty-four, she'd resigned herself to living inside the bubble her father had created for her, going from limo to apartment to business appointments that had all been prescreened and determined safe.
She knew beyond any doubt that anyone looking at her life would believe it was perfect. Why wouldn't they? She had more money than anyone truly should, she'd been given her father's fast metabolism and her mother's striking blue eyes. Her education was exemplary, and if she decided she didn't want to do anything but shop for the rest of her life, she had the means to do just that.
She knew that her agoraphobic tendencies appeared to many as conceit and arrogance. The fact that she was so terrified of being kidnapped that her world had shrunk to a stultifying routine meant nothing. There were real problems out there; she just had an active imagination and a constant state of terror that kept her from enjoying the gifts she'd been given.
She walked outside the building to the busy street, her gaze fixed on the limo parked just a few feet away. Michael, her driver, opened the back door for her. To those hurrying past he seemed like any other limo driver. Black suit, white shirt, humble demeanor. But behind his dark glasses he was scanning the area with laser intensity and the reason his jacket wasn't buttoned was so that he could, if necessary, get to his weapon in a heartbeat. He drove her, but that was his secondary job.
She passed him closely as she got into the back of the car and marveled again at his face. He wasn't classically handsome. Too many sharp edges and flaws. But his looks had grown on her since he'd come on board six months ago. She hadn't really thought about him that way in the beginning. There were lots of people in her life whose job it was to keep her safe. Some of them were also dear friendslike Elizabeth, her assistantbut most weren't. Her father didn't like her getting too comfortable with the staff, and she'd fallen into the terrible habit of seeing them as employees, not people.
Michael had turned into something else altogether. Not a friend, not really. They never did anything except drive. But they talked. About everything.
She'd learned he liked reading the RussiansTolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev. But he also liked the graphic novels of Frank Miller. She liked to tease him about his comic books, but she'd secretly ordered a few Miller novels online, and they were well, interesting.
He shut the door, then walked around to the driver's side and settled himself inside. She could see his sunglasses in the rearview mirror and wished, as always, that he would take them off. "Where to?"
He smiled at her, and she settled herself back on the cool leather seat.
She'd also learned that he didn't have a girlfriend. Which was a lot more interesting than his taste in books.
MICHAEL PULLED INTO the mess that was traffic in
midtown Manhattan, heading toward Tate's Carnegie Hill penthouse. Something out of the ordinary had happened in the session today. He'd seen that the moment she'd stepped out of the building. He'd wait and see if she wanted to talk or if she would call her friend Sara. He liked it when she spoke to Sara. Tate never hid anything from her closest friend, and for the last few months she hadn't whispered into the phone when she talked. It was her way of telling him about her life without seeming to bare it all.
His gaze shifted from the road to the mirror, where he was met by a pair of cornflower-blue eyes. He knew she was smiling and he smiled back, although he shouldn't. When Tate was this flirtatious it meant that she was running from something unpleasant. He'd been right about her session.
"So how's the doctor doing?"
Tate shifted so all he could see of her was her right temple. "Fine."
"Wonder what she talks about when she sees her shrink?"
"Probably about how whacked-out her patients are." "I don't know. She seems pretty professional to me."
"You met her once. For about five seconds."
He grinned. "Yeah, but she was professional for the whole five seconds."
Her eyes were back in focus. Smiling. "Sometimes she comes up with some weird ideas."
"For example?" A cab slipped in front of him, forcing him to slam on the brakes. Hitting the horn was tempting but futile, not to mention illegal.
"Nothing," she said, her voice softer, flatter.
He didn't push. The call to Sara would clear things up. The whole phone ploy was actually pretty smart. It didn't completely break down the barriers between them, but overhearing her chats gave him tremendous insight, which helped him do his job. Besides, she was pretty funny.
Hell, if he had to work as someone's trained pony, he was glad it was Tate. She might be rich as Croesus, but she didn't act like most of the trust-fund babies he'd met. He'd wondered, often, whether she'd be so nice if she didn't live every moment in fear. Poor kid. He wished that shrink would move it along. Let Tate really live while she was still young.
"Did Elizabeth tell you about tomorrow?" Michael nodded. "She gave me the schedule for the week."
"Good. Okay, well ."
He glanced in the mirror, but she wasn't looking at him. The phone call should be coming right up.
He saw an opening for the damn boat of a limo and he took it, daring the Yellow cab next to him to interfere. By the time he'd gone a half block Tate had the slim cell phone to her ear.
"Hey, it's me."
He wished he could hear both sides of the conversation, but at least he was privy to Tate's voice.
"I don't know, Sara. I think Dr. Bay's gone over the edge this time. She gave me this article. It's about this nutcase artist-cum-therapist here in New York. He kidnaps people for money."
Michael's hands gripped the steering wheel as he struggled not to turn the limo around, using a sidewalk café as a new traffic lane, and go right back to Dr. Bay's office.
"You have? When did you hear about this?" What in hell was Bay thinking? Maybe she'd had one too many Xanax this morning.
"She thinks that maybe if I go through the experience when I know it's safe, I'll finally get past it. Trial by fire, I suppose."
Shit, Tate needed a new psychologistand she needed one now. He could just imagine what her father would say to this crazy business. William would have a heart attack on the spot, but not before he'd had Dr. Bay's license revoked.
When Michael had signed up for the job, he'd had a lot of questions, like why this young woman needed a level of security that would make the president feel safe. William had told him that kidnapping was a danger and that he would go to any lengths to protect Tate.
Michael had agreed that someone with her wealth was a target, but guards 24-7? Ex-CIA case officers as a cook and a secretary?